Analysis: We May Not be Ready to Help Homeless Veterans

The number of homeless veterans is expected to surge with the return of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan

By Gabe Pressman
|  Monday, Nov 14, 2011  |  Updated 4:45 PM EDT
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Analysis: We May Not be Ready to Help Homeless Veterans

With the return of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s expected that there will be a surge in the number of homeless veterans.

“I don’t think we’re ready for the influx of veterans that is coming," Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless told me. "The drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will put a heavy strain on the facilities of the nation and New York. We’ll  be dealing with thousands of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. There will be a great need for affordable housing and for other psychiatric services.”

Wendy McClinton of the Black Veterans for Social Justice in Brooklyn said to me, “Black and Latino veterans will need jobs and transitional training to qualify for jobs. In the case of some women, there will be a critical need to treat those who have been sexually assaulted in the military. We will also have to address the issue of foreclosures, which have taken place while people have been away.”

One person wrote to the New York Times: “‘Homeless veteran’ should be an oxymoron. The mere thought of it is profane. What kind of civil society leaves its defenders on winter streets, even for one night?”

Volunteers with the 100,000 Homes Campaign issued a report saying: “Combat ought to be the most difficult experience of a veteran’s life, but many veterans go on to become homeless for eight or nine times the length of their deployments.”

The same group found that veterans tended to be homeless longer than non-veterans. Among the 62 percent of homeless veterans who reported two or more years of homelessness, more than 61 percent reported a serious physical health condition, 55 percent reported a mental health condition.

Among other findings in this survey, homeless veterans were more likely to suffer from at least one condition linked to increased risk of death.

Suicide among veterans is “a monster,” Wendy McClinton says. “Why do some people do three or four tours? They come home on leave and find there are no civilian jobs. They’re afraid they won’t be able to find a job, so they go back to the job they had, in uniform. I was in the Army myself for 10 years and I came out in 1995 with three young children, needing a home and a job. I know how difficult it is to get both.”  

As the man wrote in his letter to the editor of The New York Times, “homeless veteran” should be an oxymoron.

It is unthinkable that people who fought for their country should have to spend any time without a home. Our government leaders -- federal, state and city – should be preparing now for the return of these men and women who have put their lives in harm’s way -- for us.        

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