Why are so many of America’s homeless, ex service members? This research does not even cover those discharged. Many are let go due to issues that were enhanced or created from their service. Regardless of if an individual is discharged for mental health issues, physical disabilities, or who separate from the service after their contract, we need to take care of those who need it and prevent what we can through treatment or resources. It is uncomfortable how many of the homeless American’s have also served our country. I knitted a hat over the last three months to donate and be given out to the homeless when winter and cold weather hits. I have given details below for resources to get involved.
Looking at the Research
Costello, Margaret A. “Heroes or hopeless? Homeless veterans caught in a dysfunctional
system.” Journal of Law in Society 13.2 (2012): 417+. Academic OneFile. Web.
29 May 2015.
In 2011, veterans composed around fourteen percent of all homeless adults (418). Veterans who remained homeless for longer than a brief period showed that 61% had a serious physical health condition, 55% were recognized as having a serious mental health condition, 76% reported a substance abuse and furthermore, 32% reported all three (419). Costello references that in 2011 one in nine veterans lived in poverty (419). Many less educated individuals entered into the military as a way of life, but when they exit do not have the tools for success. Many issues surround the lack of support when veterans return in addition to these main issues. It is important to recognize what is done to support those who serve and take care of them when they return, but it is not enough.
The tough question to answer is why are so many veterans homeless at all? Without understanding the problem, it is almost impossible to find an answer or solution. Costello draws on resources comparing homeless veterans to non-homeless veterans in order to begin grasping the problem. Furthermore, the war they served in played a key factor. Those who served in the Vietnam era were at the greatest risk of living on the streets due to substance abuse related programs. This substance related issue sometimes makes users ineligible or harder to qualify for assistance programs.
Homeless veterans often stay homeless longer than non-veterans, making them more prevalent in the homeless population over time (419). Most homeless veterans are more educated than nonveterans (421). The reoccurring factors seem to focus on the stress experienced through deployment especially if the individual saw combat, the strain of separation from the military coupled with the adjustment back to civilian life, lack of social support when returning home, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and finally isolation factors relating to being divorced, widowed, single or separated (421). Harshly, most of these factors are escalated or created through service and combined with loss of income when one separates from the service and the inability to qualify for the benefits veterans should be entitled to due to factors related to their service such as substance abuse or behavioral disorders cause many to cause this overrepresentation in the homeless population (424).
Walther, Theodore. “Homeless in the City: A Veteran Describes the Decade He Has
Spent Living on the Streets.” The American Scholar 83.1 (2014): 48+. Academic
OneFile. Web. 24 May 2015.
This is Theodore Walther’s a first hand account as a homeless veteran. It is far more impactful than many other pieces of writing because it is so personal and gives voice to a group few would speak to themselves. Walther speaks directly to the audience with opening statements such as “We are of no particular race, creed, or gender but are easily identifiable on the streets of your city” (48). This calls the reader to action and forces themselves to take their place as an active member of the writing owning a responsibility to the author in some ways. Walther also distinguishes himself and again addresses the importance of length of homelessness. Not a temporary, but declaring himself a person with long-term homelessness or chronically homeless as at that time this year he was homeless eleven years. (48).
Walther explains his nights on the streets constantly interrupted by constant noise, police looking to move you, as well as criminals looking to beat up and steal from him (49). He goes on to openly and frankly address drugs and alcohol on the streets acknowledging that they play a key part, admitting his personal poison lies with alcohol (50). In fact he summarizes his alcoholism and experience in rehab to the larger social issues in America stating, “This is the fundamental problem with social services in general: they are all too temporary and lack the follow-through necessary to solve the real, long-term problems,” (50). I honestly could not have put it better myself. He has actually been to seven substance abuse rehabs, but as they are a bandage for a real lifestyle change, none have helped. His blunt, unfiltered description of his experience on the street force the reader to take a different perspective for a time.
Garcia-Rea, Elizabeth, and James P. LePage. “Reliability and validity of World Health
Organization quality of life-100 in homeless substance-dependent veteran
population.” Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development 45.4 (2008):
619+. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 May 2015.
Garcia-Rea and LePage discuss the quality of life of homeless veterans and the leading factors as well as options for those on the streets. The realization and need to shift from simple short term fixes to long term changes in order to positively impact and assist someone is beginning to be addressed. The most important assessments are someone’s overall quality of life, social relationships, housing and employment as well as what these items bring and the stability that is required to attain and retain them.
In more current wars, many veterans have limited job skills greater issues reintroducing to the work force and social scenarios (620). The cost for medical, social, pension and disabilities has raised over the years and still positive resources are difficult to find for veterans. Health and behavioral disorders caused through deployment have resulted in a spike in need, but less access to resources (621). The problem seems clear, but the solution will not occur without citizens manufacturing it.
How to Get Involved
Knit your own hat, scarf or warm item:
There are many organizations and places to get involved. I work a full time job and have limited free time at variable hours making it hard to volunteer with traditional programs. However, knitting is something calming and worthwhile. I think a hand knitted item is ten times better than a store bought one. Reach out to local yarn shops, or community centers. They are great resources into the community about how to get involved, even if you don’t know how to knit, there are often classes.
If you do have the time there are soup kitchens all around the country or programs in Portland, Oregon like, Picnic in the Park. I volunteered here last summer. I did early morning meal prep every Sunday, but there is serving available to homeless and families, anyone who needs help.
There are so many ways to be involved, the point is to do something or call for action. Clearly what we are doing is not enough. It is time to reach out and ask for more from those that can result in change. Even a letter to a governor, congressman or community leader can help to inspire change.