Home for Veterans

May 9th, 2009

Coming home for some war veterans means slipping off the track of chasing a fading American dream. Despite the yellow ribbons of support for the troops festooning patriotic front yards and backs of cars, there’s an army of homeless former soldiers seeking shelter in cities and towns across this country. Compounding the shock of becoming homeless can be another bitter discovery: Few communities provide programs to help veterans who hit a rough patch get back on their feet. Consequently, an estimated 154,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Why are so many once-able military troops living a hobo life straight out of bleak stories from the Great Depression? Besides the “factors affecting all homelessness — extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care — a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks,” says the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans web site. While the VA assists about one-third of the homeless vets, the majority have to look for state and local programs.

“The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, ‘veterans helping veterans’ groups,” says the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. “Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves. … There are about 250 community-based veteran organizations across the country that have demonstrated impressive success reaching homeless veterans. These groups are most successful when they work in collaboration with federal, state and local government agencies, other homeless providers, and veteran service organizations.”

When an empathetic religious group in a suburban New Jersey town proposed turning an empty church into apartments for homeless veterans, however, neighbors turned out to vehemently oppose the plan. What happened next showed the other side of America. When the proposal came up for a vote by the Highland Park Board of Adjustment recently, the room was packed by a crowd of veterans wearing military caps, peace activists in protest T-shirts, church members and residents of the central New Jersey area appalled by the neighbors’ complaints.

“Joe Vanliew broke down as he uttered his first words to the Highland Park zoning board, one of dozens of people who spoke Monday at a tense, four-hour meeting at which the board ultimately agreed to allow a shuttered church to be converted into an 11-unit housing complex for homeless veterans,” The Star-Ledger correspondent reported. “‘I hope the sacrifices of every veteran are remembered tonight,’ the white-haired man said, his voice cracking. ‘They were in the thick of things, and I can’t believe that anybody in Highland Park or anywhere else wouldn’t support the veterans.'”

The objecting neighbors, who included a veteran or two, maintained that the conversion would add traffic to a busy street, ruin an historic building and put veterans in substandard basement-level apartments that, paradoxically, would cost much more in government grants than would be needed to buy houses on the market.

During the hearing, testimony was provided that the housing plan had the approval of federal agencies seeking to address the fact that “New Jersey has more than 3,500 homeless veterans, according to Victor Carlson, a psychologist and chief of homeless services for the Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System,” The Star-Ledger reported.

The veterans’ home project was launched by Highland Park Reformed Church pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, who told the newspaper that “the project stemmed from years of preaching about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of his congregation would ask him to pray for nieces and nephews going to war, then they asked him once again to join them in prayer when the veterans returned, he said. ‘They were praying for their nephew who came back and was sleeping on someone’s couch.'”

For more information:

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
Highland Park agrees to convert shuttered church to homeless veteran housing
Pastor Seeks to House Veterans in Old Church

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)

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Categories: Military, Politics | Comments (5) | Home

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5 Responses to “Home for Veterans”

  1. Larry |

    It is indeed shameful that so many people in our country have no respect for our veterans and what they represent. Don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon. I have my opinion of why this is true but will defer to someone else to answer. My part of the country, Tennessee, seems to try very hard to aid our former military people. You will be hard pressed to find the disrespect here that is so obvious in other area’s.

  2. Tom |

    The number of homeless veterans is higher than I thought. Depressingly high. I’m sure there’s a personal story behind each homeless veteran’s situation, but it doesn’t matter how or why he/she ended up on the street. More must be done at all levels of government to help the homeless, veterans and all others alike. Charitable organizations and just plain people with good hearts should do as much as possible, too. I say that with a sense of guilt because I haven’t personally done anything to help. I’m going to try to find a way to change that.

  3. Tom |

    And then there’s this:

    NYC Starts Charging Rent at Homeless Shelters

    Basically, New York City is going to start charging homeless people who have a job up to 50 percent of their income to pay for staying in shelters.

  4. Whymrhymer |

    The issue of homeless veterans has been with us for many years and while it is as inexcusable now as it was in the past, it is, unfortunately, more understandable now. We’re at a time in America’s life when the economy is the center of everyone’s focus and when most states and districts are trying to cope with budget shortfalls — as are millions of individuals.

    There should have never been a time in this country’s history when returning soldiers were not treated as the special citizens that they are and nurtured back into civilian life, but the government (despite its rhetoric) has failed badly at that task and the gauntlet needs to be picked up by the private sector.

    The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has it just right: “The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, ‘veterans helping veterans’ groups.” Every citizen needs to be slapped awake and made to realize that they owe their lives and livelihoods to these these returning vets and must be made to realize that if they are not, in some way, assisting (or starting) one of these community-based veterans assistance groups they are failing their citizenship test. Right now its up to us, the bloggers, the columnists, the reporters and other media types to do the “slapping.”

  5. Pdon |

    The fact anyone is homeless is a testemant to a failed society. The fact that 1/4 of the homeless risked their lives for the state compounds my first statement tenfold.

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