Here is the first paragraph from the official Overview of Homelessness page from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs.
About one-third of the adult homeless population have served their country in the Armed Services. Current population estimates suggest that about 154,000 veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. Many other veterans are considered near homeless or at risk because of their poverty, lack of support from family and friends, and dismal living conditions in cheap hotels or in overcrowded or substandard housing.
Estimates from other sources vary but the general consensus is between 150,000 and 250,000.
I have noticed that in the last year under the Bush administration they have steadily lowered the official number. Go figure.
I think we all get a little desensitized to the meaning of numbers that are cast about day after day by the pretty pundits and the mouths of government. A billion here, a trillion there, five hundred million over here, and after awhile all the talk and all the numbers sound so much like that faceless character from the Charlie Brown cartoons.. waaaa waa waaa waaa… who nobody ever understood.
For some perspective: I live in the second largest city in Illinois with a population of just over 150,000.
Add in the four largest surrounding towns and the number goes up to around 245,000.
Now imagine all five of those cities and towns encompassing two counties, living in the streets.
Before I go any further let me say emphatically, Fuck you Bill O’Reilly
After Kevin returned from Iraq, he spent most nights lying awake in his Army barracks in Hawaii, clutching a 9mm handgun under his pillow, bracing for an attack that never came. His fits of sleep brought nightmares of the wounded and dying troops whom Kevin, a combat medic, had treated over 16 months of suicide attacks and roadside bombings. He kept thinking about an attack that killed 13 of his comrades. He hated himself for having survived.
Kevin is just one of many who are flooding the nations homeless shelters after returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Source.
Unable to work, suffering from PTSD, abandoned by the government, men and women like Kevin are falling through the cracks in our system.
Veteran Specific Demographics
23% of the homeless population are veterans
33% of homeless men are veterans
Only 9% of the total U.S. population are veterans (U.S. Census 2000)
47% served during the Vietnam era
17% served in the post-Vietnam era
15% served prior to the Vietnam era
67% served for three years or longer
33% were stationed in a war zone
25% have used VA Homeless Services
85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans
89% received honorable discharges
79% reside in urban centers
16% reside in suburban areas
5% reside in rural areas
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% are white males compared to 34% non-veterans
46% are age 45 or older, compared to 20% non-veterans
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are not accounted for in the figures cited above.
From what I have been able to surmise, nobody is keeping track of these newly homeless vets.
In 2006 Barack Obama introduced S. 3475 [109th]: Homes for Heroes Act of 2006
It was co-sponsored by
Sen. Tim Johnson [D-SD]
Sen. Robert Menendez [D-NJ]
Sen. Charles Schumer [D-NY]
Homes for Heroes Act of 2006 – Amends the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act to establish in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs to: (1) ensure veteran access to HUD housing and homeless assistance programs; (2) coordinate all HUD programs and activities relating to veterans; and (3) serve as a HUD liaison with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Directs the HUD Secretary to provide assistance to private nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives to expand the supply of supportive housing for very low-income (not exceeding 50 percent of area median income) veteran families.
Amends the United States Housing Act of 1937 to: (1) make housing rental vouchers available to homeless veterans; and (2) include veterans in public housing planning.
Excludes veterans’ benefits from income for purposes of HUD assisted housing rental determinations.
Requires the Secretary to: (1) make grants to nonprofit entities for technical assistance in sponsoring HUD housing projects for veterans; and (2) report annually to specified congressional committees and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on HUD activities relating to veterans.
The bill was never passed and expired at the end of that session of congress.
I encourage supporters of both candidates to continue to push awareness of the plight of veterans and to urge your candidate to make this a central issue when they are elected.
How you can help
There are events across the country year round that are organized specifically to help and fill the most basic needs of homeless vets. They are between one and three days in duration.
In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment.
Today, Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. Homeless veterans are brought together in a single location for one to three days and are provided access to the community resources needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives. In the military, Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being. Today’s Stand Down affords the same opportunity to homeless veterans.
Events last between one and three days. Three day events provide food; shelter, and
personal care (haircuts, personal care supplies, clothing);
picture ID services;
health care screening (HIV/AIDS, TB, Hepatitis C, etc.);
health care services (actual health care professionals will provide services);
eye care; dental care;
VA benefits counseling; general benefits counseling (Social Security, Food Stamps,
local health and human services); substance abuse counseling/recovery groups; mental health counseling; legal services; employment services (job referrals, employment counseling);
housing services (referrals to programs);
spiritual services; activities to empower homeless veterans and create a “community”
(town meetings, tent leaders, open mike, entertainment, graduation)
None of this happens without a massive effort on the part of volunteers.
That means me, and you. Here is a list of the Stand Down events scheduled for this year 2008
along with contact names and phone numbers. I can’t make this any easier for you to participate.
Find a Stand Down event near you
I chose not to write a heart rending diary focusing on the very personal stories of the many I came across while researching this. The simple fact that there are so many homeless vets is heartbreaking enough.
I have signed up for the Stand Down being held closest to me. It’s two hours away, a three day event.
It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation and my humanity for those who have been carrying a burden
alone, shunned and neglected, who deserve better. Much better. Please visit the links to find out how you too can be a part of the solution.
I leave you with this;
Paiute Medicine Song
Now all my singing Dreams are gone,
But none knows where they have fled
Nor by what trails they have left me.
Return, O Dreams of my heart,
And sing in the Summer twilight,
By the creek and the almond thicket
And the field that is bordered with lupins!
Now is my refuge to seek
In the hollow of friendly shoulders,
Since the singing is stopped in my pulse
And the earth and the sky refuse me;
Now must I hold by the eyes of a friend
When the high white stars are unfriendly.
Over-sweet is the refuge for trusting;
Return and sing, O my Dreams,
In the dewy and palpitant pastures,
Till the love of living awakes
And the strength of the hills to uphold me
Sometimes people just need a little help finding their song,
sometimes you have to sing it with them until they remember the words.
And sometimes, all you have to do, is show up.