The men and women who serve our country deserve our gratitude and our support, but historically they've received a whole lot less. Many veterans in recent decades have struggled to make a smooth return to civilian life, and the programs available to them were lacking. Thousands ended up on the street- a grievous injustice and betrayal to those who deserved our support the most.
The good news is, Americans wanted to do better, and we did! According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the number of homeless veterans has dropped by 43.3 percent since 2011. Those are some amazing stats, but our work still isn't done. In 2019, over 37,000 veterans were still without roofs over their heads. The more people who are aware of the problem, the easier it is to fix it. Here's how you and your family can help bring that number to zero!
1. Have empathy
We all love to think we're openminded and understanding, but there's still a strong stigma against people who have become homeless. Many people in shelters struggle with substance abuse or mental illness. If I give them money, one might think, they'll just buy alcohol. Why should I fund that? Why should I help someone who won't help themselves?
Before you go any further, imagine a day in their shoes. Imagine you don't have a job, and you can't afford a haircut or clean clothes, so no one will hire you. You might not have a degree, either. You spend most nights alone, cold and shunned from the society you swore to protect. Statistically, 90% of homeless veterans are men, and only 2% are part of a family. In other words, if you're a homeless veteran, you probably came back from war to no job, no family and no support. Considering substance abuse is closely tied to low income and lack of emotional and social connections, is it any wonder these veterans are struggling? Then, factor in conditions like PTSD and chronic pain, and well...that would push ANYONE to the brink.
Understand that being homeless doesn't mean a person doesn't care about getting back on their feet. It means they need help to do it. An easy way to show your support is by offering bottled water, nutritious food or a warm coat. These are small acts of kindness, but they help.
2. Speak out
Reach out to your local government officials to discuss what your city is doing to help reduce the number of veterans in shelters each night. Push for plans that include affordable housing for veterans, treatment programs for substance use and employment programs. If they don't have plans in place, ask how programs like that can be launched.
3. If no one’s listening, make them
If there's a marked lack of support for homeless veterans in your area, consider starting a coalition. Gather people you know who support the cause and work together to make a difference. Start a canned goods drive, a coat drive or a meal train. Plan a peaceful march to boost awareness. The more visibility your group has, the more city officials will listen.
4. Volunteer your services
If you happen to be a lawyer, why not use your powers for good? Visit local shelters to help veterans apply for benefits and housing programs that they may not know are available to them. Medical professionals can also help by treating minor injuries and illnesses.
5. Hire a veteran
If you own a business and need more employees, consider hiring a veteran! While their individual skillsets and qualifications may not match every industry, they're likely to be hardworking, quick learners, and a great fit for most entry-level jobs.
Not everyone has time for hands-on involvement, and we get it. If that's the case for you, just donate! Organizations like DAV, U.S. Vets and Volunteers of America are great charities to donate to at the push of a button.
And remember, if you see a veteran, whether at a family reunion or on the street...say thank you. A little appreciation goes a long way.
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