Mousa Alshanteer: We must end homelessness among vets

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

Over one-fourth of homeless Americans have risked their lives for our safety and security through the U.S. Armed Forces.
Though veterans represent only 11 percent of the population, they comprise nearly 26 percent of individuals who are most likely unemployed and unaware of where they will get their next meal or bed to sleep in. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, it is estimated that between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless for prolonged periods of time on an annual basis. By means of an inadequate income, limited education, combat-related physical and mental health disabilities, potential substance abuse problems, and a lack of previously guaranteed government services, our veterans – our beloved defenders of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – are twice as likely as other Americans to become homeless.
As a result, the federal government has stepped up in its role to prevent veteran homelessness in recent years.
General Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and pledged to end homelessness among veterans within the next two years. Congresswoman Hochul recently introduced H.R. 6328, the Clothe a Homeless Hero Act, to the Committee on Homeland Security before its enactment into law this past January. This law will direct the Transportation Security Administration to donate the unclaimed garments recovered at security checkpoints to local veteran organizations. Additionally, many organizations such as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans have partnered with federal agencies to provide clothing and housing to disadvantaged veterans.
Though it’s easy to transfer responsibility to the federal government, it’s important to note that these agencies, organizations, and enacted laws have done little in terms of solving the problem of veteran homelessness, especially in light of current sequestration measures.
Recent funding for almost all of the programs that provide housing for veterans was fixed at the previous year’s levels or reduced, except for the HUD-VA’s Supportive Housing Program, which was completely eliminated from the budget despite its role in reducing the number of homeless veterans by 7 percent the year before last. Though the Department of Veterans Affairs was spared from sequestration cuts, funding for the Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, which provides employment for disadvantaged veterans, was significantly reduced. The complete loss or decrease in funding for these programs will deprive nearly 100,000 veterans of proper living accommodations. Though Congressmen Buck McKeon and Paul Ryan have cautioned our politicians about such consequences and tried to reject sequestration, their words were not heeded.
Consequently, many Americans have decided to take the matter into their own hands and have done a tremendous job in doing so.
Organizations and programs such as Veterans Inc. in Massachusetts and the Jericho Project Veterans Initiative in New York City offer housing, employment and ample services to hundreds of veterans on an annual basis. The New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston has worked with Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray to establish 1,000 housing units for homeless veterans in the next two years, a majority of which will be available for veterans not eligible for assistance from the federal government. At the same time, volunteers at grass roots organizations are working to provide the assistance that the federal government deems certain veterans ineligible for.
Thus, it’s easy to display a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker and to wave our flags at military ceremonies, but until we acknowledge and resolve the fact that our veterans are not being ensured the basic necessities they ought to have been guaranteed, we are inadvertently sustaining the current situation.
The fact of the matter is that no one who has served and risked his or her life for this nation should ever be living on the street. Overcoming homelessness and the various problems undeservedly facing our beloved veterans necessitates more than the inadequate assistance of the federal government; it requires each and every one of us to uncover and support these aforementioned local organizations, or to find other means by which we can serve those who served us at some point in their lives.
This is, above all, our essential duty as American citizens.

Mousa Alshanteer is a freshman at Duke University and a 2012 graduate of High Point Central High School. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author. Contact him at mousa.alshanteer@duke.edu.