In today’s highly partisan national discourse, there is one idea everyone can agree on: taking care of our nation’s veterans. Facing a frustrating, unending series of foreign entanglements, how we care for our warriors when they return has reached the mission critical stage. We simply cannot continue to ignore those who give their all to keep us safe.
While the methodology of the various homeless surveys are by no means perfect, the results can still break your heart. Veterans comprise around 34 percent of the general U.S. population yet veterans are grossly over-represented in our country’s homeless population. By some counts, 40 percent of chronically homeless males are veterans. And, of the increasing number of females who find themselves homeless, three percent are military vets.
California is home to the highest number of veterans in the nation; with close to 11 percent of all veterans living in the state. Unfortunately, California also ranks first in the high cost of housing. The Golden State also has the dubious distinction of currently leading the nation with the highest rate of poverty (24 percent of all Californians live in poverty). In this perfect storm, California, unsurprisingly, also has the highest number of veterans (at least 29,000) with no place to call home.
By some accounts, Los Angeles has the largest population of homeless military veterans in the U. S. The V. A. estimates there are more than 8,000 veterans living on the mean streets of L.A. This accounts for approximately 11 percent of all homeless veterans nationwide.
Our nation’s walking wounded warriors can be found walking the streets of L.A.’s Skid Row. Many of the men and women who have protected us – now need protecting themselves. They suffer from multiple health and mental health challenges like: brain trauma, PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and chronic medical problems stemming from injuries suffered on the battlefield. It is now our turn to save their lives.
The United Way LA’s Home For Good program has decided to take a radical stand to solve this problem. We want to challenge everyone involved in this issue to work together to push for action to end homelessness for veterans by 2016. This could be the perfect legacy issue for President Obama and the new Republican Congress. The federal government has the capacity to handle the unique set of health and housing issues facing our homeless veterans. The president and first lady have shown great sensitivity to what is certainly a bi-partisan problem.
At the Los Angeles Mission, about twenty percent of our Fresh Start program members are veterans. We provide mental health counseling; housing and food assistance along with job training just to name a few of the ways we help restore lives. The Mission works hard along with all of the other homeless service providers on Skid Row. However, what all of us are able to do is just a drop in the bucket. The problem is a never-ending flood of people in need of different life-lines in order to get their lives back.
Homeless service providers all over this nation wonder why government can’t work smarter and more effectively with those of us working on the front lines to solve these tough problems. We have lots of experience and we seek new ways to work together.
Herb Smith, President of the Los Angeles Mission, chairman of the board of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) and a member of the Home For Good Business Leaders Task Force.