An unwanted cemetery plot may someday be the resting place of an indigent veteran, thanks to a donation from a former metro-east family.
The estate of William and Darlis Eaker has been open since 2006. Recently, attorney Brian Konzen was appointed as special administrator to process the closure of the estate, including selling off unneeded assets. The Eakers had one surviving son, who now lives in North Carolina, according to court documents.
Among those assets was a single cemetery plot in Sunset Hills Cemetery, where the Eakers themselves are interred. The Eakers’ son, William Eakers Jr., signed off on donating the plot to Edwardsville Township.
Township Supervisor Frank Miles said at first they wanted to designate it to a veterans organization, but upon discovering that townships have responsibility for handling burials for the indigent, they decided to donate it to the township directly.
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The task of handling final arrangements for the indigent — people with little or no income, often homeless — is one of the basic functions of township government; what used to be called the “pauper fund,” Miles said. Burial assistance is not often needed, but when it is, it is the township’s responsibility, he said. “This burial plot is an asset that would help with the burial of an indigent person,” Miles said.
William Eakers Jr. could not be reached for comment. Konzen said he never dealt directly with Eakers, as he was simply appointed to close the estate by the court.
Homelessness among veterans has become an issue nationwide, albeit one that national authorities say is improving. The 2014 “Point-in-Time” count conducted by the federal government estimated the number of homeless veterans nationwide at 49,933 — a 33-percent decline since 2010, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the federal Veterans Administration. Illinois saw a 2.6-percent decrease, dropping to 18.8 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans.
Madison County participates in the “Point-in-Time” count, which takes place in the last week of January. The county’s estimate was 397 homeless people, of whom 20 were veterans. But David Harrison, homeless services manager for Madison County Community Development, said they believe there are more homeless, including veterans, out there than they have counted.
“It’s difficult to find the folks who are experiencing homelessness,” Harrison said. “We know they’re out there.”
Some veterans do not believe they truly are veterans, Harrison said; sometimes because they served only a short while, or because they did not have an honorable discharge. “They don’t think they qualify for benefits, but they do on certain programs,” he said.
Madison County offers services through Chestnut Health, but it has only three spaces for veterans for the entire county, Harrison said. There are other programs for transitional or permanent supportive housing, vouchers offered through the VA in St. Louis, and the Madison County Veterans Assistance Commission offers services relating to employment, administrative casework and emergency financial assistance including referrals to housing assistance.
Veterans are especially susceptible to issues that can lead to homelessness, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction are frequent problems, especially for combat veterans. In addition, military occupations and training may not easily transfer to civilian employment, according to the homeless veterans coalition. They estimate that as many as 32 percent of homeless veterans live in suburban or rural areas, and at least half have disabilities, serious mental illness or substance abuse problems.
Miles said the township also offers general assistance to low-income residents, including veterans. Eligibility for aid is based on income and available resources, and includes rental assistance. Applications are available at the township office on Park Street in Edwardsville.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.