Despite selfless service to their nation, a large group of Americans brace the elements each night, often cold, hungry, alone, and sleeping on the streets. Many of these homeless Americans are veterans, some of which have withstood the elements of combat, born the emotional and physical scars or war, only to return home, and later find themselves on the streets of America. The social injustice of allowing our men and women who have served in uniform to become homeless after leaving military service is reprehensible.
In 2008, average winter temperatures were 32 degrees F, and the East North central region (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin had their 10th coldest December on record (NOAA, 2008, para. 5). According to the Homeless Research Institute’s Vital Mission Ending Homelessness Among Veterans (2008) there were 131,230 homeless veterans in America on any given night. Imagine for a moment, the cold those Americans suffered during the winter months, and you begin to see the absolute necessity for action. The rate of veteran homelessness in America is more than double the general population. There are 58 homeless veterans for every 10,000 veterans and the numbers have continued to rise as veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan transition from active duty to veteran status (p.1).
Predominantly, the veteran homeless population is male (93%), age 35-54, however, there has been a rise in younger female veteran homeless population. Currently, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan represent 4% of the veteran homeless population. This number is expected to rise as the wars overseas draw down, and soldiers transition to veteran status. There also exists a disproportionate number of African American homeless veterans compared to White or the Latino homeless population. Homeless Research Institute’s statistics in conjunction with the Veteran Administration’s studies overwhelmingly point to a nationally significant problem in America; they are in danger of becoming homeless.
In 2010, President Obama and the Veterans Administration called for ending veteran homelessness in the next five years. The Veteran Administration’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans program clinics served over 70,000 veterans in 2008 (Homeless Research Institute, 2010, p.1). The ambitious goal of eradicating veteran homelessness cannot be the sole responsibility of the federal government. While the government does have the funding mechanisms, they often lack the personal connection so often needed in providing direct assistance. While the federal government is moving to address the growing issue of veteran homelessness there are many things at the local level that can be done. Combining the resources of local organizations, nonprofits, churches and individual citizens willing to volunteer their time we as Americans can successfully end homelessness within the veteran community.
The men and women who have served our country are facing a barrage of bullets, not from enemy insurgents, but instead from high unemployment, family adjustments upon returning home, possible PTSD, and the possibility of facing homelessness. As Senator Robert Menendez said, “A grateful nation would work to ensure that the men and women who risked their lives serving their country are not left stranded when they fall on hard times back home…we should act to make sure veterans can put a roof over their head” (Homeless Research Institute, 2007, p. 5). So the question is what can you do?
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2008 Temerpature for U.S. Near Average, was Coldest Since 1997; Below Average for December. Retrieved from http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090108