The Great American Tragedy: Homelessness Among Our Veterans
Author: Elizabeth Leatham
An article in USA Today reports that on a given night, more than 75,000 veterans (male and female) are living homeless on the streets of their cities. Nearly half (40%) of all homeless males are veterans. The homeless are often looked down upon in American society. They are often seen as lowly beggars, leeching off of the system. The true tragedy is when we see our brave, courageous, strong soldiers fall to homelessness. What we often don't understand is what would cause our protectors, our soldiers, to give up on ambition and dreams to live an unfulfilled life on the corner of Main Street. We don't understand this because we will never know, as our soldiers did, the trauma of war.
Veterans have to deal with high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and often may have traumatic brain injuries or sexual trauma. Due to their experiences in war, Veterans may often want to be secluded and are more likely to live unsheltered and outdoors. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, Veterans are also most likely to experience long-term, chronic homelessness.
Generally, a homeless person is expected to have not graduated from high school, but studies show that 85% of homeless veterans have completed high school or received a GED. On the other hand, only 56% of non-veteran homeless have completed high school. Furthermore, our homeless veterans were not necessarily the 'problem soldiers' in the army. Eighty-nine percent of homeless veterans received Honorable Discharges and 67% served in the military for three or more years.
These men and woman risked their lives for our country. They gave of their time and their service honorably and without question. And now, nearly half of them are living alone on the streets, not knowing how to get the help they deserve.
When faced with these statistics, most peoples' attention immediately turns to the government. They ask questions like "Why would the government allow their own veterans to suffer and beg on the streets?" and "Why has our government failed to help our homeless veterans?"
We may not currently see a large impact from government programs, but they are there, and they are helping. Our government cares about our veterans and so does our President. In 2011, President Obama set the goal to end chronic homelessness among veterans by 2015. When he set his goal, Obama implemented the plan entitled Opening Doors. Opening Doors is a federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness within five years.
Opening Doors implements five points. The first is to provide affordable housing to veterans and then second to provide permanent supportive housing. Supportive housing is shown to be a most affective bridge between homelessness and independent housing. A study was conducted as part of the Federal Collaborative Initiative to Help End Chronic-Homelessness, and it concluded that 95% of the participants were in independent housing after one year in a permanent supportive housing arrangement.
The third point is to increase meaningful and sustainable employment. It is important that the job a veteran receives matches his/her skills so that they feel their work is meaningful and that they are needed to remain in the job for a long period of time. The fourth point is to reduce financial vulnerability by enhancing information, reducing barriers, and improving access to services. This point emphasizes making homeless veterans aware of the government programs available to help them.
The fifth and final point is to transform the homeless crisis response system. This is the point at which the government transfers its burden to the community. There needs to be a quicker response to homeless veterans showing up in a city. People need to take notice and spread the word to these veterans about the help that is available to them. The community also needs to be involved with re-housing. The veteran will feel a greater connection to the community reaching out to them rather than the government.
Government programs are fantastic, and they are helping many veterans, but according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the VA Department of the United States is only able to serve about 25% of the veterans in need. This would leave approximately 300,000 veterans each year who are left to seek help elsewhere. When the government's reach cannot go any farther, the community has an obligation to step in.
These 300,000 veterans who are not able to receive help from the VA will turn to local government agencies and volunteer organizations. They will turn to their community for help. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans states that the most effective programs are "community-based, nonprofit, 'veterans helping veterans' groups."
The community and the individual within that community has a chance to help decrease the amount of homeless veterans. Our veterans gave their all for our country; it's time that we take a moment to give back to them. The largest problem is a lack of information. In this area, community outreach can make a big impact on the amount of homeless veterans that are receiving help. Many veterans seclude themselves. According to a study of homeless veterans, 96% of them are alone rather than part of or near family. They don't have anyone else, and many of them have no idea that there is so much help available for them. Beyond government programs, there are countless volunteer organizations and also local government agencies. It is the responsibility of the individuals within a community to help spread the word of relief to the veterans who are currently without family and without a home.
You can find more information on the government's plan to end veteran homelessness as well as information on what you can do to help the homeless veterans in your community by following this link: http://www.va.gov/homeless/for_the_community.asp