If you stop to listen to them, the stories are surprising. Once active-duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, bearing the responsibility of the nation’s safety on their shoulders are now sleeping in cars, on a friend’s couch, with their family in a motel – homeless.
They are White, African-American, Hispanic. Male, female. College-educated and blue-collar workers.
But the commonality they share? They are homeless veterans haunted by their time at war. Returning home, many struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addictions, and guilt. Like a number of the citizens they fought to protect, they came home to a poor economy, job loss, higher rents.
And in their fight to regain normalcy upon their return, too many become homeless veterans.
The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) estimated in 2009 that there were about 107,000 homeless veterans in the US. An organization called Soldier On places that number higher – around 275,000 homeless veterans on the streets on any given night.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness is concerned that these numbers could grow considering the Obama Administration’s plans to bring home troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Statistics indicate that young veterans (between 18 and 30) are most vulnerable.
And there’s another growing problem: Women veterans are between two to four times more likely to become homeless than non-veterans.
HOW HOMELESSNESS HAPPENS
Like their fellow citizens, veterans often become homeless when a series of tough circumstances make holding a job and caring for families overwhelming.
Many veterans come home with PTSD, leading to substance abuse problems. Some soldiers report that pride prevents them from seeking help until it’s too late.
In the past few years, returning soldiers have also faced a shortage of affordable housing and fewer job prospects. Some veterans believe employers are hesitant to hire returning soldiers due to their potential emotional struggles. This is something an organization called the Jericho Project wants to remedy. Tori Lyon, of Jericho Project recently told a reporter, “We need to leverage the competitive strengths that veterans offer: technological mastery, teamwork and the ability to perform under pressure. We need to urge employers to hire veterans.”
HELP & HOPE
The camaraderie formed on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan is one of the best solutions for dealing with homelessness. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports that the most effective programs appear to be “veterans helping veterans” – particularly transitional housing set-ups in safe environments.
Fortunately, many organizations are attuned to the plight of the homeless veteran:
- Recently, Jericho Project has been working on a Veteran’s Initiative, creating safe environments that “will provide the holistic support they need to move from homelessness to healthy lives.” In 2011, Jericho Project has been working on two major housing residences in the Bronx.
- National Coalition for Homeless Veterans works in partnership with government organizations to end homelessness and shape public policy. Their website includes resources for homeless veterans and their families.
- Soldier On also partners with government agencies to offer immediate and long-term help with housing, addiction treatment/recovery, food, clothing, medical and job services.
- The VA has a National Call Center for homeless veterans: 877-4AID-VET. The VA also offers the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which provides counseling, child care services, temporary financial assistance.
Have you or someone you know ever hit hard times after returning from active duty? What were some ways you got back on your feet?