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ERIC HOWZE, middle, with Leslie Howze, Allen Mendoza, Angela Howze, Christina Flewellen-Howze, and Maisha Howze. Eric received the “Hometown Hero” award from KDKA Radio, March 29.

As Eric Howze tells it, “The battle doesn’t start until you’re actually on the home front.”

Howze, getting the proper paperwork filled out at age 17 to enter the U.S. Army; at age 21, he was conducting military police operations in Iraq…

But though he was fortunate enough to leave war combat and return to Pittsburgh, “getting readjusted was extremely difficult. We leave the war, but the war doesn’t always leave us,” Howze said.

That’s when he experienced extended periods of homelessness. “No vehicle, no job, no one to really take me by the hand and help me and show me that there was a better life than being homeless,” Howze said freely during an interview on KDKA-AM (1020) with morning show host Larry Richert, March 22.

ERIC HOWZE upon returning from the war in Iraq, found himself homeless for years in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Gail Manker)

Howze, the combat veteran, continued with his story, heard all over radioland. But it was no fairy tale. It was the truth.

He found himself sleeping outside, in front of building after building—until one night, Howze said, an “officer was about to arrest me.” But once Howze told the officer his story—the many missions he carried out as a valued member of the Army—the officer “escorted me to the Veterans Recovery Center at the VA Hospital.”

That started a months-long journey of “re-integrating into society,” Howze told listeners. “Classes, workshops, exposed to many different resources for employment and housing.”

It wasn’t long before Howze had a job, and “more self-determination,” he said.

Nowadays, he’s the engine behind Operation Homefront 22, whose mission is to provide a bridge for homeless and at-risk veterans to the resources they need which can lead to recovery and self-sufficiency. Howze told the New Pittsburgh Courier the organization’s mission is “to end military veteran homelessness and reduce veteran suicide. Our three values are to build residential stability, income/skill level, and self-determination. We do this through homeless outreach, meal preparation for homeless, distributing handwritten Thank You cards, etc. When we engage homeless veterans, we want to offer them not only basic needs items, but connect them to organizations that specialize in their needs.”

ERIC HOWZE, KDKA-AM HOST LARRY RICHERT (Photos by Gail Manker)

For these efforts, Howze was recognized as one of Larry Richert’s “Hometown Heroes” at a reception at Rivers Casino, March 29. Other honorees included: Rosana Elena Guernica, a Carnegie Mellon University student who organized multiple aid missions to Puerto Rico after recent hurricanes; Stephanie Scoletti, a cancer survivor who created the Youth Adult Cancer Support group; Sharon Boone, Co-founder of Outreached Arms, a group that supports homeless and less fortunate individuals; and Samantha Finigan, Director of Outreach for the Three Rivers Rowing Association, and provides opportunities for rowing to disadvantaged and disabled individuals along with veterans. It was the sixth year for Larry’s Hometown Heroes.

“We wanted to look for people in our hometown…I’d say they’re ordinary people but they’re really extraordinary, doing extraordinary things for others without asking for anything for themselves,” Richert told the audience at the event.

THE HONOREES—Larry Richert’s “Hometown Heroes” honorees. Also pictured are former Steeler Merrill Hoge, right, who served as keynote speaker, and Bill Hillgrove, third from right, longtime Pitt and Steelers announcer.

Moments later, Howze stepped to the podium, greeted with the sculptured award by Richert, along with applause. Howze, who was initially nominated for the award by his sister, Maisha, reiterated his thanks for that officer, who decided, instead of possibly taking Howze to jail, to take Howze to the VA Hospital for treatment, several years ago.

“It is my call of duty to reach out to others as the officer had reached out to me,” Howze said.

With his family in the audience, he thanked them for their continued support through all of his trials and tribulations.

“Today, I am using my misfortune in life to minister and empower others to a better world of service,” Howze said. “My fellow Americans, if you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, let us go together.”

Near the end of his speech, Howze relayed the following message: “In the Bible, Matthew 25:36 says, ‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to see about me.’ With that in mind,” Howze told the audience, “I encourage everyone to support Operation Homefront 22 because you have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

 

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