Today is Veterans Day. As we fill our social media pages with terms of endearment and perhaps swoon with pride that our country is so ripe with brave and self-sacrificial individuals who boldly stand up in our defense, we have an under-reported problem.
Our young men and women go off to war or are stationed around the world for years at a time, only to come home to be forgotten. Not completely forgotten, because, hey, we have November 11th. But forgotten often enough and frequently enough that we have left many of them out in the cold.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 49,933 veterans are homeless on any given night. Almost 50,000 of our veterans, every single night.
50,000 people who volunteered to defend you and me. Who put themselves in harm’s way. Who trained and equipped themselves, who spent time away from family and friends. People who have dreams and plans and hopes for tomorrow. People with stories to tell and skills to contribute to our society. 50,000 people with real, touchable needs. And if you believe like I believe, 50,000 people made in the image of God.
Many of our homeless vets struggle not just with holding a job or finding a permanent home, but with the ability to function at a level many of us take for granted. 51% of homeless veterans have disabilities, 50% have serious mental illness, and 70% have substance abuse problems.1 We cannot be okay with these numbers.
The good news is the number of homeless vets is declining. The number of veterans suffering from homelessness has dropped 33% since 2010.2 That is progress. But we need more.
We need more than just Facebook statuses and flags at half-mast. We need more than, ahem, blog posts. We need more than a spirit of thankfulness.
We need to step up to meet these needs. In the public sector and in the private sector. As citizens and as neighbors. We need to support programs that come alongside our veterans to give them education, job training, healthcare, and treatment.
I happened to meet a homeless veteran a few weeks ago. He was living under the bridge by our church. He walked away from a bad situation, made some rash decisions, has struggled to find work, and has gone cold and hungry for far too long.
He picks up odd jobs as he can. During the summer months he offers to dry cars at the nearby car wash. He has a few arrangements with restaurants in the area who gently throw away the leftovers at closing time so he can find them at the top of the dumpster. He lost most of his belongings when the police removed him from the last place he had hunkered down. He didn’t have a coat or a blanket or a friend.
We were able to help him with a few items and he came by the next day to help us paint during a work day at our church. He connected with one of the gentlemen in our congregation and now the homeless vet has had a roof over his head, access to food, a sense of friendship, and he has a found a job as well. All because one guy was willing to go out of his way, have a conversation, pull some strings, and see this guy not as a problem, but as a brother.
Most of us are proud to live in a country that is “the home of the brave.” But let’s not stop there. Let’s be home of the caring and compassionate. Home of the grace-filled. Let’s be a country that doesn’t just sign up for war but who signs up to care for each other (veteran or otherwise). Let’s be a country that doesn’t forget those who have stood on our behalf.
Let us be a people who are known for our ability to see the needs of those around us and our willingness to meet those needs.
If you are interested in getting more involved or donating to causes like these, here are some veteran related organizations that have high ratings from Charity Navigator.
- AMVETS National Service Foundation
- The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Charitable Service Trust
- The Special Operations Warrior Foundation
- The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund
- The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Foundation
I did not find Charity Navigator ratings for these veteran homelessness specific groups: