When Johnny Came Marching Home, He Found Himself Unemployed And Homeless

Posted: March 15, 2010 in Bureauacracy, Employment, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Stereotypes, Veterans

"VA is committed to ending the cycle of homelessness among Veterans. We will use every tool at our disposal – health care, education, jobs, safe housing – to ensure our Veterans are restored to lives with dignity, purpose and safety."
– Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs –

On Friday, the Texas Insider reported that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was "… allocating $39 million to fund about 2,200 new transitional housing beds through grants to local providers" as part of its efforts to end homelessness among Veterans within five years.  

Secretary Shinseki’s push to end homelessness among American Veterans is something I strongly approve of. And it’s something that I would desperately like to see happen. Nonetheless, I can’t help wondering if that $39 million is perhaps more symbolic than remedial.

Here’s why.

According to the article, there are approximately 107,000 Veterans who are homeless on a "typical night."

I’m not entirely sure what can or what cannot be considered a typical night – particularly from a bureaucratic point of view. So I won’t bother to even speculate about that. I do know, however, that if you were to take $39 million and divide it by 107,000, you’d end up with a dollar figure of about $364.48 per homeless Veteran – or (to put into a clearer perspective) less than $1 per day for each homeless Veteran over the course of a year.

On the other hand, based on data posted on the White House Office of Management and Budget website, the VA’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 will be $112.8 billion!

Suddenly that $39 million doesn’t sound much more than just the proverbial "drop in the bucket," does it?

To make matters worse, another article I read (also on Friday) in the Military Times, reported that the U.S. Labor Department had said that the unemployment rate for young vets – aged 18 to 24 – returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had reached 21.1 percent.

To be sure, in addition to the $39 million I mentioned above, the VA does provide a number of other programs and services designed to assist homeless Veterans. So, it isn’t as though $39 million is all they are allocating toward ending homelessness for our Vets.

All the same, with such a high unemployment rate for those who are returning from their tours of duty, it is likely that some of them will end up on the streets – especially those who do not have some type of safety net.

That troubles me because if too many newly returning Veterans become homeless, it could conceivably cancel out the advances that have already been made in reducing homelessness among our Vets. And that would put us back at square one.

That any man or woman who has worn this nation’s uniform should be without a place of their own to call home is indefensible. More than that, it belittles all of us as a nation.

Approximately 1 in 4 of this nation’s homeless adults are Veterans. They should be treated with the honor and dignity they’ve earned serving our country.

Yet, because they are homeless we look upon them with contempt and disdain. And because of stereotypes, when we see them we avert our eyes. We walk pass them as though they aren’t worthy of our notice. We think of them as being lazy bums who need to get jobs and stop mooching off of the rest of us.

For some reason it doesn’t occur to us that when Johnny came marching home, he didn’t have a job or a home to return to. Consequently, Johnny found himself homeless.

Ending homelessness among this nation’s Veterans in five years is an ambitious undertaking. But it is a goal worthy of fighting to achieve.

I don’t envy Secretary Shinseki’s task.

I, for one, genuinely hope he succeeds in ending homelessness among our Veterans.

  1. Michael, thank you for this powerful post. The suffering that families are experiancing as a result of the Veteran Dad, Wife, Mom or sibling etc not being that same loved one that went off to war is staggering.
    Mental illness, self medication, substance abuse, homelessness and suicide are very real challenges that families and children are having to deal with.
    Thank you Michael

  2. Jody says:

    Hi Micheal,

    I saw you on Suckerfish yesterday and was deeply impressed with your story. I just wanted to thank you for your commitment to bringing awareness to our communities. May you know what you are doing is making a difference. Have a great day and take care of you.


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