Homeless Veterans In America Today?



I sit in my warm house on a cold winter’s evening.

Eight degrees outside with wind chill of negative 15, my dog all snug and warm in his bed by my side. My phone rings and I find myself talking with an honorably discharged Army veteran who has fallen on very difficult times. He finds himself without transportation, a job or a place to live. Alternating between residing in a small cramped home with too many people to staying in his car. We talked for a long time, thinking of ways to change his situation, different avenues to pursue. We end our conversation with the promise that my partner and I in Embracing Our Veterans will work hard to help in what way we can.

Hanging up the phone, I sit. I let my mind and heart settle. I take a deep breath and have the urge to yell or throw something. I don’t do either. I force myself to be still. I let my mind settle once more.

I share this because I have a hard time envisioning our country’s veterans struggling so hard. Barely existing. A veteran who is educated, has many skills and is willing and able to work, but is unable to due to varied circumstances of life kicking him when he is down, of the help that he needs and is unable to find or simply doesn’t know where to turn. I thank God each day that I am in a place where I can help in some small way.

Homelessness is just one area that desperately needs addressed.

How many homeless veterans are there?

Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 49,933 veterans are homeless on any given night.

Approximately 12,700 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) were homeless in 2010. The number of young homeless veterans is increasing, but only constitutes 8.8% of the overall homeless veteran population.

Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors influencing 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 (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.

Researching the statistics on various websites such as va.gov and nchv.org, the number of homeless veterans on any given night is staggering. And folks, please don’t think that there are no homeless veterans in your own neighborhood. You would be wrong. I’ve met them. I’ve talked with them and I’ve prayed with them.

Is it easy to put yourself out there and try to help? No. There are nights I lay awake at night, thinking of ways to help those who need it. Do I get paid for any of this? No. I work full-time to keep a roof over my head and offer my personal time to helping others. It is tiring, frustrating and heartbreaking but also incredibly rewarding.

I am often asked “why do you put so much effort into this? Helping veterans? Don’t you have your own life?”

Yes, I do have my own life. I also believe that were I not doing what I am to help others, my life would be less than it is. In helping others, my life is enriched and strengthened.

So here I am, sitting in my warm house on a cold winter evening. Thankful for what I have and all the while, thoughts and ideas, avenues to search, run through my mind of how best to help those who do not have a warm place to call their own; who do not have the security of having a home to go to each day.

I ask each of you. What were you doing last night while sitting in your own warm home? Were you grateful? Were you warm enough? Did you have enough to eat? If so, how very fortunate you are. Now here is the tough question. What have you done to help those who do not have those things? I am well aware that our lives are busy and at times hectic. Running the kids to all of their activities, working full-time and for some of you, working two jobs. We all deal with things in our daily lives that can be hard. But how often do you take a good look at what you actually have and think of those who have so much less than you?

I am asking you to just think about it and let your conscience and your heart guide you. Each person is gifted with something. Let’s try to work together this year to use our gifts to help those who may need encouragement or a little help. Who knows, you yourself may be the one who benefits in ways you never imagined.

God bless America and those who defend her.

Kim Lengling is a local author and co-founder of Embracing Our Veterans and Co-Chair of Project Support Our Troops. She can be reached at [email protected] or visit embracingourveterans.org

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