Ending veteran homelessness is something all of us should be passionate about. President Obama, in August 2014, said, “We’re not going to rest until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America.” According to the VA website, the VA and White House initiative to end homelessness has been successful. From the VA website:
“According to the 2014 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, the number of Veterans who are homeless is down by 33 percent since 2010. Steady progress has been made, but there is more work to do to address the many causes of homelessness among Veterans. These include poverty, insufficient access to reasonably priced housing, isolation from family or friends and substance use or mental health challenges that may develop or worsen as a result of service-related trauma.”
The VA Is Looking for Partners
Many cities have taken up the gantlet to try and end veteran homelessness in their area. However, as they’ve done so they’ve realized that there are many veterans slipping through the cracks. According to scpr.org, Los Angeles is one of the cities that is taking their responsibility to house veterans seriously, and is running into issues trying to help those veterans that were less-than-honorably discharged. Those not honorably discharged are not usually eligible to receive the federal funds dedicated to ending veteran homelessness. Being less-than-honorably discharged has a highly negative stigma attached to it, and while some dishonorable discharges are for grievous offenses, many times the less-than-honorable discharge has no reflection on the manner of service.
SPCR.org quotes Gregory Scott, president of New Directions, as saying, “We had a female veteran who…was in the Air Force and the reason she got out is because she was raped by an officer,” he said. The reason she received a less-than-honorable discharge is simply because she left the military before her agreed-upon time was up. “Other veterans may have had a fight while in the service, or a drug or alcohol problem. But they served.” Less-than-honorable discharges can be given for many reasons. I know a Marine veteran who served honorably but was discharged early because he wasn’t losing weight fast enough. While a dishonorable or general discharge may reflect a soldier’s commitment to their service, it usually only reflects the specific reason or situation surrounding the way the soldier left the service.
Causes of Veteran Homelessness
Many of the things that bring a civilian into homelessness can also bring a veteran into it; drug abuse, mental illness, and just plain old bad luck. Veterans, however, may be struggling with PTSD and other effects from their time in service. Veterans are likely to turn to drugs to cope with PTSD if the proper support system is not in place, and drug abuse is a common cause of homelessness. Everybody needs a hand sometimes, and I dare say no veteran wants to be homeless. No veteran prefers to sleep under overpasses or on park benches, and no veteran likes being lonely. Ending veteran homelessness is a powerful and wonderful goal that all of us can get behind.
The economic environment over the past 6 years has not been helpful for veterans trying to find gainful employment after discharge, and many are homeless simply because they could not find a job.
Good, But Not Enough
Steady progress has been made, but 33% in four years with only two years remaining to address the remaining 2/3 of homeless veterans is a stretch. What may surprise you, though, is that it’s still possible, and everyone can help. Whether through volunteering to help conduct the Point-In-Time count in January of each year, volunteering time or services to help veterans in your local community, or going to the VA website for information on how you can be directly involved, you can make a difference for veterans in your community and all across the country. You can visit the VA’s Get Involved page to learn more about what you can do.