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Veteran to Fight Alameda Citation for Homelessness

Aaron and his service dog, Captain. (Facebook)

Aaron and his service dog, Captain. (Facebook)

A United States Marine Corps and Tennessee Army National Guard veteran who has been homeless in California for 8 months says he plans to fight a municipal citation issued to him by Alameda police last week for “illegal camping” – sleeping in his van, parked at the ferry terminal, when he had nowhere else to go.

Aaron Elijah Colyer told Action Alameda News that he has been “sleeping on the streets of the country I served” and that our society is criminalizing homelessness.

Colyer, now 34, joined the Marine Corps in January 1997, at age 17, and did a standard 5 year stint as a private. Subsequently, he served with the Tennessee Army National Guard, he said.

He said he’s been fighting with the Veterans Administration since 2007, and waiting for an administrative hearing for almost a year now; Colyer said he suffers from PTSD.

“I called Barbara Lee’s office, and they didn’t help,” he told Action Alameda News.

In June of 2013, he came to California to reconnect with his estranged wife female partner and son, Aden, who is now two, who live in the East Bay, and who Colyer hasn’t seen since the boy was a few months old.

“I never saw my father,” he said. “I want to be a father to my son.”

He’s been homeless for most of the time he’s been here in California.

Colyer said that he did have a job here for a while, but the employer withheld paychecks, and he had to file a complaint with the labor commission to get paid.

When he finally did get his back pay, about a month ago, he bought a van, and that’s where he’s been living with his service dog, Captain.

He was parked at the ferry terminal last Thursday when Alameda police approached and cited him for illegal camping, an exchange he caught on video, below.

Colyer says the Alameda officers opened the door to his van without his permission, even as he was offering to speak to them and show identification through the window. (The exchange is captured on the video.)

After that, he says a good samaritan in Concord allowed him to park the van at his house, but he couldn’t sleep for three days.

“I’ve been robbed and assaulted, and I don’t do well in shelters because of my PSTD,” Colyer said.

As of Monday, Colyer said, he was in temporary housing in San Leandro arranged through Operation Dignity, although he didn’t understand why the agency wouldn’t place him with his service dog at its Alameda Point housing facility.

The citation is some thank-you from the community, Colyer said, coming just a few days after he volunteered with a City-sponsored litter clean-up at Alameda Point, and just a day after he observed what looked like an oil-soaked bird on the estuary shore, and reported it to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard said they’d look into it.

A bird that Colyer thought looked oil-covered, which prompted him to report a possible oil spill to the coast guard. (Aaron Colyer)

A bird that Colyer thought looked oil-covered, which prompted him to report a possible oil spill to the coast guard. (Aaron Colyer)

He doesn’t even know how much the citation will cost him, he said, but he plans to fight it.

“It’s basically illegal to be homeless nowadays,” he said. “The United Nations has said that shelter is a human right.”

Colyer has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money, which has generated $205 in three days, out of a target of $25,000.

Since originally published, this article has been updated to reflect that Colyer was not married to the mother of his son. After this story was published, Mr. Colyer wrote to clarify that he served a combined 4 years in the USMC and Tennessee Army National Guard. The USMC personnel management support branch told Action Alameda News he enlisted in January 1997 and was discharged in January 2002. The Tennessee office of military records would only confirm that Colyer had served with the Army National Guard and could not provide dates, citing privacy laws.

2 comments to Veteran to Fight Alameda Citation for Homelessness

  • barbara

    When is his court date? Looks like he could use a good attorney.

  • The ticket is mostly illegible and the courts have stated that I don’t have a court date yet to “call back in a week or two”. I would like to hold a rally at the court house in support of peoples rights to exist if anyone is interested.

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