Over 750 people showed up to pay their respects to a homeless veteran after word of his funeral spread on Facebook.
According to KFOR in Oklahoma, Jerry Billings was a U.S. Navy aviation specialist airman who served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. He passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 69 with no family to make funeral arrangements.
Part of the reason so many people attended the funeral was a Facebook post by OKC Veterans Connect, which was shared thousands of times.
KFOR spoke to one Oklahoma woman who had been to similar funerals in the past, but none like this one.
Christine Hoffman, who works for the city, took it upon herself to find out more about the veteran.
“I’ve done other funerals, and I’m like the only one that was there,” Hoffman said. “This was just amazing. Absolutely amazing. My heart is swollen.”
Though everyone from military members to first responders showed up to honor Billings, the issue of homelessness among veterans is often overlooked. According to a national estimate from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were 49,933 veterans in America in January 2014. Other organizations have released figures that are much higher, and an exact count can be difficult due to the transient nature of homelessness.
However, there may be reason for optimism. In June 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Mayors’ Challenge, part of a push by the Joining Forces initiative encouraging mayors and county officials nationwide to pledge to end homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. And according to the 2014 HUD study, homelessness among veterans is down 33 percent from 2010.
Jared Newman, a serviceman who attended Billings’s funeral, told KFOR why he chose to pay his respects.