Out of all Americans currently experiencing homelessness, some say that one in four is a veteran. Richard R. Troxell says it’s more like one in three, going by the figures gleaned by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, namely, 28-33%. And, out of that number, more than half are black or Hispanic. So, on top of being a general societal problem, it’s also a race issue.
Despite the best efforts of those who want to help house the homeless, these statistics are rather difficult to keep track of. Many homeless people have learned from hard experience that it’s a good idea to steer clear of any official types, no matter how benign they appear. Some of these folks probably don’t even know themselves who or where they are.
This week, some homeless veterans are getting help, as journalist Melissa Murphy reports from the ninth annual Veterans Stand Down in Dixon, California. The three-day North Bay Stand Down is a yearly event that does its best to provide vets with medical and legal help, along with jackets, underwear, sleeping bags, hygiene kits, boots, and other tangible goods.
The clothing and equipment are either government surplus or bought with grant money. Personnel from Health and Social Services are present, as well as the representatives from Employment Development. Substance-abuse counselors and legal aid people are also available to provide help. A valid ID is always a handy thing to have, and the Department of Motor Vehicles is on hand to facilitate that.
Volunteers from Travis Air Force base set up tents to house the visitors and the various activities. Even live entertainment by the Timebandits is part of the package, along with showers and hot meals.
The organizers expect attendance from the 250 individuals who have registered, with probably another hundred arriving unannounced. Most participants are bused in from the five surrounding counties, and most are in their late forties or early fifties. Murphy interviewed Patrick Stasio, executive director of the Stand Down board, who said,
They come home and there is no wind down time for them. They’re physically here, but their mind is still in the combat area. It’s hard for them to adjust. They’re not the same person when they come home.
Back in August, Aaron Glantz of the New American Media wrote about another California Stand Down, this one in Pleasanton, on the grounds of the Alameda County Fair. Glantz has published two books on the Iraq war, and has collaborated with veterans on the book titled Winter soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. The Pleasanton event drew more than 400 Americans who needed help to turn their lives around, including a break from the legal system. Glantz wrote,
A group of veterans stayed in camouflage canvas tents, met with employment counselors and even made their case to superior court judges, who prescribed modest penalties in exchange for dropping charges related to failed appearances on old warrants. Such warrants often started as unpaid traffic tickets, but the charges escalated as they were ignored.
The reporter talked with a former burn-unit medic who had worked extensively with Vietnam veterans. After a prison term, he hooked up with the Homeless Veteran Rehabilitation Program, which he credits with saving his life. This man had just had his resumé typed, which was stored on a flash drive and tied around his neck on a string for safekeeping.
There are about 400 “transitional housing beds” available in California, which has an estimated 12,000 homeless veterans. That’s about 30 in need, for every one existing accommodation.
Earlier this month, Eric K. Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, announced nearly $42 million in government grant money, which is supposed to supply additional space. According to the press release,
The $41.9 million is broken into two categories. About $26.9 million will help renovate, rehabilitate or acquire space for 1,352 transitional housing beds. A second group of awards, valued at $15 million, will immediately fund 1,216 beds at existing transitional housing for homeless Veterans this year.
About half of all veterans on the streets had served during the Vietnam era, a particularly damaging war in terms of long-term psychological effects on its participants. When idealistic young people enlist, hoping to serve their country, they’re thinking a three- or four-year hitch. Some end up staying in for a full 20, but very, very few of our youth sign up expecting that the consequences of their stretch in the military will be lifelong, consigning them to wandering, hunger, and neglect.
And maybe it doesn’t have to be forever. It’s wonderful that caring people put together the Veterans Stand Down, but no matter how wonderful, it’s only a bandaid on a gaping societal wound. Richard R. Troxell believes the Universal Living Wage could fix that. Here’s looking forward to the day when there is no longer any need for the Veterans Stand Down.
Source: “Dixon ‘Stand Down’ draws homeless veterans in need,” Daily Democrat Online, 10/13/10
Source: “Standing Up for Homeless Vets at ‘Stand Downs’,” New American Media, 08/18/10
Source: “Secretary Shinseki Announces $41.9 Million to Help the Homeless,” Dept. of Government Affairs, 10/01/10
Image by yummyporky (Vera Yu and David Li), used under its Creative Commons license.