Bring Them Home:
Helping Homeless Veterans
Union Mission Team
Text: Andy Webb, Maggie Lynn,
Photo credits: Roy Mosby
There are over 200 veterans homeless on any given night in the greater Savannah area, according to estimates from the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless. The factors contributing to veteran homelessness are similar to those shared by all homeless across America – lack of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care – but some are unique to veterans. Many veterans who end up homeless find themselves displaced because of the lingering effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or substance abuse. These impacts are compounded by lack of family or social support, isolating veterans and leaving them few places to turn for help.
“22 veterans commit suicide every day, according to a 2012 study conducted by the Veteran Affairs. Studies have shown that a majority of vets do not receive treatment until 10-15 years after separation from service.”
ANDY WEBB, GRACE HOUSE CASE COORDINATOR
Veterans continued to be overrepresented in America’s homeless population, making up eight percent of America’s homeless. Veterans are also twice as likely to become chronically homeless, experiencing more than 3 episodes of homelessness over a 365 day period. When veterans do become homeless, they are likely to stay homeless longer than non-veterans, with an average length of six years versus the four years for non-veterans. While the majority of homeless veterans are male and elderly (between the ages of 51 and 65), the face of veteran homelessness is beginning to change. More and more, homeless veterans are young, female, and heads of household.
While the face of veteran homelessness is changing, the issues they struggle with remain the same. In addition to mental health and substance abuse issues, veterans face other challenges in their struggle to leave homelessness behind. Often the professional skills and training they receive during their time on active duty do not translate well to an all civilian workforce. This, combined with frequent moves that make it challenging to build and grow a professional network outside the military, place service members at a disadvantage when seeking employment at the end of their military career.
Helping homeless veterans means going beyond just housing. To meet their specialized needs, programs that support veterans must provide a comprehensive array of support services to coordinate the mental health care, housing, and employment support which enable them to rebuild their lives. While government funding exists to support such programs, it is extremely limited and community support is crucial to ensure that groups helping homeless veterans are able to continue reaching out to support those who have sacrificed so much. Bringing our service members home for good means providing the resources they need to stay housed and to rejoin our communities with dignity.