Yesterday I stopped to speak with a homeless gentleman I know. He’s been homelessness now for about 4 years. Like so many other homeless, he ends up "sleeping rough" – meaning that he sleeps out of doors – quite often. Sleeping rough isn’t his first choice however. I’m sure he’d prefer to have a roof over his head. But, there simply aren’t enough beds at the local shelter to accommodate everyone. Subsequently folks get turned away.
He tries to maintain as neat an appearance as is possible for a homeless person. Sometimes though, he ends up having to wear a set of clothes far longer than he would prefer. That too, isn’t his choice. Being homeless he has an extremely limited budget and just as limited a wardrobe.
Quite often he has to carry all of his worldly belongs around with him. From time to time though, he is able to find various locations around town where he can hide some of them. That, however, involves the risk of either other homeless persons finding and stealing his things, or perhaps a local business or city workers finding them at tossing them into the nearest dumpster. In fact, he told me that the day before yesterday his sleeping bag had come up missing. He’d spent the night wearing two layers of clothing to stay warm.
This gentleman is generally well spoken; polite. He doesn’t use drugs. He does, on occasion have a beer or two, but I’ve never known him to get drunk. When possible, he finds the odd day job here or there, but stable employment is hard for him to find. And because he doesn’t have a mental health issue or an addiction disorder, he falls between the cracks when it comes to getting the types of assistance which might be able to help him get off the streets.
Also, he is an American Veteran; one of approximately 400,000 thousand other Vets who find themselves homeless through out the course of the year.
Not more than ten minutes after he and I parted company, I happened to spot a black SUV which had a magnetic yellow ribbon on its rear hatch which proclaimed: Support Our Troops.
Perhaps it had something to do with my having just spoken with this homeless Veteran – but seeing that yellow ribbon made me angry. And, perhaps because I was angry at having seen that first magnetic ribbon, I began noticing quite a number of vehicles also with "ribbons." Most were yellow, but there were also a fair share of them which were red, white and blue, which stated, either: God Bless Our Troops or Pray For Our Troops.
After I’d calmed down and my anger had dissipated, I started wondering how many of these "ribbons" there were on vehicles across the nation. And, when I thought about how many homeless veterans I’ve met, it seemed just a bit hypocritical that there were so many of these "ribbons" being displayed.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t support our troops. We should give our moral support to those men and women who are currently in harms way. However, we shouldn’t forget those who have served but now find themselves living on our city streets.
The sad reality is that we seldom give thought to just how many of our nation’s veterans there are who have found themselves homeless.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veteran’s website,
- 33% of male homeless population are veterans
- 67% served three or more years
- 33% stationed in war zone
- 85% completed high school/GED compared to 56% of non-veterans
- 89% received Honorable Discharge
- 46% age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans
Considering that one third of America’s male homeless are veterans, it would seem reasonable to believe that the federal government should be providing adequate funding to help these veterans transition back into the mainstream community. However, as seems to be the habit of our nation’s elected leaders, there is a gross under-funding of programs to help those who have served as part of this nation’s military.
Consider this paragraph from the National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Military Spending vs. Affordable Housing and Veteran’s Affairs Spending,
For the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the President has a budget of $91 billion for FY 2009. The Department of Veterans Affairs also boasts that its homeless assistance programs constitute the largest integrated network of services in the United States. Strikingly, the Veterans’ Affairs budget only allocates $158 million dollars to support this network. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says that of the 400,000 homeless veterans on the street any given night, the Department of Veterans Affairs reaches only about 25% of them.
The last sentence in that paragraph is the gut wrencher for me: only 1 in 4 of our nation’s homeless veterans are being provided with any type of assistance to help them get off of the streets.
What does this say of ourselves as a nation that we are not outraged by this lack of concern for those who have given of themselves to ensure our freedoms and now find themselves needing us to give of ourselves to help them?
For those of our nation’s veterans who find themselves homeless, the front line isn’t on some distant shore. It’s right here on the streets of our nation. Their toughest battle is fighting against the stereotypes and prejudices they face daily simply because they have found themselves homeless.
Support Our Troops?
You bet. Not only those who are fighting abroad, but those who are fighting for their survival, right here on the streets of our nation’s communities.