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By Gregg Bear

ROSEBUD — As the nights steadily grow colder, a group of homeless veterans remain camped at the fairgrounds here where they’ve lived since Rosebud Fair ended in August.

The group, numbering as many as seven some nights, employ blankets and body heat to keep warm in the single tent on the coldest nights.

Led by John Sharp Fish, 68, and his younger brother Gerald, 63, the men say they’re hoping an apartment provided by SWA housing opens soon.

Although most receive social security or veterans benefits, none individually earns enough to rent a commercial apartment in Mission, nor would anyone likely rent to a group of homeless Indian veterans.

The men say they’ve been kicked out of the tribe’s homeless shelter, for reasons few of them can fathom. Last year, John said he provided more than $600 a month in food to the shelter, until asked to stop.

He was finally ordered to leave after being told he owed the shelter money, he said.

“I don’t know where they got that from,” he says.

After Rosebud Fair ended, John said he went to RST President Cyril Scott and obtained permission to set up a camp at the fairgrounds.

John, limited by stomach wounds received in combat, tries to look out for his younger brother Gerald, who suffers memory lapses since getting ganged in Valentine, Neb. a couple of years ago.

As such, Gerald is part of the payee protection program under RST Social Services. He receives $745 a month and the program issues him $50 every Wednesday, but neither he nor John know what happens to the remaining $500-plus that Gerald doesn't receive.

When officials learned a Sun Times reporter was making inquiries, Gerald’s weekly stipend was increased to $75 without explanation, but that still leaves more than $200 unaccounted for.

John Sharp Fish said when they’ve complained to tribal officials downtown, they’ve been told that Gerald should find another payee to manage his money. But finding an honest payee is easier said than done.

“We want an elected official from the council to do an audit,” John said. John himself doesn’t need a payee and manages his own bank account.

The cold nights have forced some men to break into boarded up SWA units. They’ve agreed no drinking at the encampment, enforced by John, so those with alcohol problems look elsewhere to drink when they can afford a bottle.

John, who suffers sharp pain at night from his Vietnam war wounds, can often be found at the camp guarding food supplies and their meager possessions. While away recently to conduct business, their only cooking stove was stolen. So, he tries to stay close to camp, reading books or magazines to while away the time.

And waiting.

Waiting for that hoped for SWA apartment that may or may not turn up.

As October sinks into November for these aging Lakota veterans with nowhere to call home, the future might appear bleak, especially with winter not far behind.

“We’re used to this,” John Sharp Fish says. “We’re Lakota warriors.”

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