NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When Yasmine Charles’ workday with the Census Bureau is over, she hits the streets of Hampton Roads looking for the homeless, especially veterans.
On Thursday, just as she arrived at the flyover at Military Highway and Virginia Beach Boulevard, so did Norfolk Police officers who responded to complaints about the homeless. Apparently, passersby had complained of panhandling and the officers told the small group of men and women who had set up cots and blankets to move along.
In an hour, the sun would set, so Charles returned to her car that was parked nearby just outside a beauty supply store. A veteran named David, who frequents the area, agreed to speak with Charles who was wearing a mask while seated behind the wheel of her red Toyota.
David, deeply tanned from sun exposure, tossed his backpack to the ground and appeared eager to share — with anyone who would listen — the story of his life. David told Charles he grew up in the now-demolished Academy Park section of Portsmouth. He told Yasmine he enlisted in the U.S. Army in the late 1970s where he served in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He shared that he has lived in Roanoke, Richmond, and in Hampton Roads where he worked as a welder at several shipyards.
“Where are you staying tonight?” asked Charles.
David responded, “Probably behind this building,” before deeply inhaling the smoke from a cigarette and went on to say he had not had lunch.
David admitted he had been kicked out of a nearby shelter, and became emotional when Charles asked about his family. His eyes drifted and his left hand jittered as he explained it had been a while since he had spoken to his children.
10 On Your Side was on hand to witness this exchange, but this is what Charles does every night. Using a mounted cell phone camera, she records the exchanges with the homeless and shares them with friends on social media platforms.
Charles, born in Haiti, served in the U.S. Navy for nine years but ended up homeless and living in her car while enrolled at Norfolk State University. She shared her story with the media and a stranger came to her rescue, providing a scholarship that allowed her to graduate from NSU.
Charles, now 42 years old, shares the story of her life in her book titled “Shut up and Look Cute!“
Pre-pandemic numbers show an estimated 40,000 veterans in American are homeless. Advocates for the homeless are bracing for a dramatic uptick in homelessness due to pandemic related problems.
She calls her one-woman mission “Homelessness and COVID-19” She offers toiletries, sanitizers, and money for bus fare and food.
If viewers wish to donate to her one-woman-mission called Homelessness and COVID-19, Yasmine directs them to her GoFundMe page and other means to offer donations.
“With COVID now, especially in Norfolk, a lot of people are losing their homes — we are seeing a lot of tent cities building up around the area,” said Charles.
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