Twin brothers Clifford and Gary Koekoek have been through a lot together over the 84 years they’ve been alive. They served together in the Vietnam War; before that they survived World War II living in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. They worked in show business together and almost made it on the Ed Sullivan show. However, now they are facing a new challenge together — homelessness.
The twins bought a house in California from their mother and lived there since the 1980s. In 2007 they took out a loan to fix the roof but didn’t realize that it was an adjustable rate loan. As time went on, their payments got higher and higher until they could no longer afford to pay their mortgage. The bank foreclosed on the house, and they soon found themselves living out of their car together.
“I would almost say it’s hell,” Gary told the local news about their condition.
“It’s a lot of stress. I’d rather go back to the war and get shot at,” added his brother, Clifford.
Spending most of their time walking around or at the library, these Vietnam veterans are trying to find permanent housing once again. They admit, however, that they are feeling overwhelmed, and sometimes they even have to go without eating.
They have few friends who can offer them help, but one family friend — Aaron Hoerner — is trying to help the Koekoek brothers get back into a home of their own through social media and crowd-funding. For Hoerner, the situation has given him a new outlook on homelessness.
“It’s easy to walk by and not look at their situation, but if you stop and talk to somebody, everybody has a story,” he said.
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“I never will [beg],” Clifford told another news station. “I’d rather die… that’s the way I’m feeling.”
As the 84-year-old twin brothers try to find a place to live, it is another example of the overwhelming problem of homeless veterans in the United States. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, around 11 percent of homeless individuals in America once wore the uniform and served in the military.
There is hope on the horizon for the brothers, though. With efforts on social media, the local and online communities have raised funds to help Gary and Clifford get into VA housing. We hope they will soon have a permanent living situation and a place to call their home.
Watch the Koekoek brother’s story in the video below. Then keep scrolling to learn what’s being done to help and how you can get involved.
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.