by DiAnna Steele
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on May 28, 2020.
A tattered, soiled blanket covered the homeless man lying on the sidewalk while a thin layer of cardboard served as his mattress. Next to him, a coffee jar guarded a few coins. In his hand, he clutched a cardboard sign that read, “PLEASE SUPPORT VETERANS.” As the former spouse of a Special Forces Officer and the mother of 3 sons who’ve served in the U.S. Army, Coast Guard, and Air Force, my heart sank.
Much progress has been made to support veterans and deliver them from homelessness in the past decade. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2019 ANNUAL HOMELESS ASSESSMENT REPORT, released in January 2020, veteran homelessness is half of what was reported in 2010. That’s significant progress. But according to this same report, on a single night in January 2019, state and local planning agencies (Continuums of Care) reported 37,085 Veterans as homeless.
With the current pandemic, veteran homelessness is on the rise. On Monday (May 18, 2020), the VA reported a rise in the death toll among its patients treated for the coronavirus. Of 12,242 veteran cases of COVIC-19 reported, 1,012 died from the virus. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those veterans were homeless.
I also began to wonder what resources are available to homeless veterans during this viral pandemic. Surely, there’s more than a beat-up coffee jar and a cardboard plea for help. What can ordinary citizens do? How may you and I support the mounting numbers of veterans who as a result of this national health crisis succumbed to soaring unemployment rates and now can’t make their rent or mortgage payments or even afford food?
Many people don’t realize that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and HUD collaborate and jointly administer the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, combining permanent HUD rental assistance with case management and clinical services provided by the VA. Additionally, the VA offers a continuum of homeless programs. In 2019, 4,400 veterans found permanent housing through the Hud-VASH program and over 50,000 veterans secured permanent housing through other VA homeless programs.
Too, the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) Program awards funds to over 365 urban counties, metropolitan cities, states, and territories to provide emergency response to veterans (and others) living on the street. Last year, over $255 million went to providing emergency shelter to house people in crisis; street outreach and other essential services; rapid re-housing to provide time-limited permanent housing and stabilization services; and homelessness prevention.
Something as simple as making a phone call to one of these agencies could make the difference between life and death for an individual who served this country in a military uniform.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE.
In an effort to engage communities for immediate support, the VA is now issuing its own plea for assistance from individuals and organizations. VA Centers around the nation accept tax-deductible donations to increase direct services to local veterans. The most requested items are non-perishable food items, mobile phones that enable veterans to access VA telehealth services, and monetary donations to help pay for security deposits for living arrangements for homeless veterans and those at risk of eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can make a difference.
Call the National Homeless Veteran Call Center 877-4AID VET (877-424-3838) to report a homeless veteran needing assistance.
Make your tax-deductible donation to a local VA Center.
DiAnna is a former Special Forces wife and mother of sons serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force, and a former Army Paratrooper. A professional speaker for over 25 years, DiAnna served as a facilitator for Wounded Warrior Wives retreats, as well as training and keynotes for Fortune 500 companies. She is available for speaking requests and panel discussions. Inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.