Former Marine treks cross-country to raise awareness of homeless veterans

By Sunni Battin

Over the summer, Brennan Silver journeyed over 800 miles to Colorado, documenting the stories of homeless veterans he met along the way.

Brennan Silver (left) poses with a homeless Vietnam veteran living out of his van in Boise, ID. He was one of several veterans featured on Silver’s video interviews. Credit: Brennan Silver

Brennan Silver (left) poses with a homeless Vietnam veteran living out of his van in Boise, ID. He was one of several veterans featured on Silver’s video interviews. Credit: Brennan Silver

Former Marine Brennan Silver understands the sacrifices that come with serving his country. At age 18, he enlisted with the Marines and served until 2007, serving multiple times in the Middle East. He now works as a mental health counselor but felt the need to break away from routine life.

“I felt I needed a respite and possibly some wilderness therapy for myself. As I planned my journey I realized I had the opportunity to make this about something far greater than merely myself,” he said.  

That higher calling involved a passion to help extinguish the typical homeless veteran stereotypes. Over six weeks this past summer, Silver hiked over 850 miles in the name of spreading awareness about homeless veterans.  

His journey began in Portland, Oregon, in July and ended in late August at the Pawnee Buttes near Fort Collins. For every city he reached, he sought out local homeless shelters, visiting and interviewing local veterans. 

“When I look around and see so many vets ending up on the streets or in shelters after returning home, I find a great failure has occurred. I set out on this journey to interview vets and honor their stories and voices because I feel they are sometimes ignored or marginalized,” Silver said.

One particular story stands out to Silver. 

“I’ve listened to a Marine vet who did eight tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now homeless and the VA tells him it may take up to three years for him to receive any tangible housing help,” he said.

A photo of Silver in his uniform while serving in the Marine Corps. He served four years, from 2007 until 2010, and was promoted to Sergeant after his second tour in the Middle East.Credit: Brennan Silver

A photo of Silver in his uniform while serving in the Marine Corps. He served four years, from 2007 until 2010, and was promoted to Sergeant after his second tour in the Middle East.Credit: Brennan Silver

As he journeyed the hundreds of miles from one shelter to another, Silver dealt with many of the struggles veterans experiencing homelessness face every day. 

“I rise early and break camp by 7 a.m. because it gets so hot, in spite of the fact that I couldn’t fall asleep either due to comfort and temperature issues or security concerns.”

He hiked in the cool of the mornings into the early afternoon, trying to keep to dirt trails and occasionally bushwhacking until he could find a safe and out-of-the way places to bed down in the evenings. 

A series of injuries suffered in Idaho forced Silver to adjust his plans, cutting the journey shorter than anticipated. Still, he collected dozens of interviews he hopes will help raise the marginalized voices of homeless veterans, translating into action. 

“I would like to see an immediate prioritization towards building and creating scores of veteran dedicated group homes all across America,” he said. “Places where vets could have a safe place to sleep, the privacy of their own room coupled with the comradery of living with other vets while they get back on their feet.”

Equally important is the money factor. 

“To quote someone I interviewed on my journey, ‘If we have the money to send our troops to war, we have more than enough money to help them come home and reintegrate with society in healthful ways,’” Silver said.

For him, having a good plan in place to transition veterans and prevent homelessness is key—a plan of safety and mental health. But that is only a part of the plan.  According to Silver, more needs to be done to make homelessness stereotypes disappear.  

“You have to meet that other human being face to face and take the time to listen, really hear their story, journey, and experiences. If you’re in a rush and can’t slow down, stereotypes is where you’ll stay. Things only change when we slow down and are willing to get our hands dirty coming in contact with another person’s life experiences,” Silver said.  

Along the summer journey he forged, Silver released brief videos documenting his experiences, which can be viewed at brennansilver.com

The story has not ended. Silver released a series of video interviews documenting his experiences on his website, and even a book is possible.  

 “If we can help our warriors heal, they’ll be far more equipped for functional thriving in society,” he said. “We don’t have to change who the vet is, we just have to help them overcome some obstacles and blocks to their mental, physical, spiritual, and holistic wellness.” ■