Archive for Homeless Veterans

V.A. Budgets Spending Increase, End to Vet Homelessness in 2015

VA-logoVery recently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released its proposed 2015 budget of $164 billion, reflecting a 6.5% increase in spending over the current year. Among the goals that will be achieved in 2015 are the end of veteran homelessness and the elimination of the agonizing disability claims backlog that has drawn criticism from all quarters.

The 2015 budget appropriates an additional $1.6 billion in funding the V.A.’s plan for ending veteran homelessness. The money would fund V.A. direct assistance and programs it operates with community agencies and non-profits to help veterans and their families at risk of becoming homeless.

One-third of homeless adult men and nearly one-quarter of all homeless adults have served in the armed forces. It has been estimated that nearly 200,000 veterans may be homeless on any given night and that twice that many experience homelessness during a year. Many other vets are considered at risk because of poverty, lack of support from family and friends and precarious living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. Ninety-seven percent of homeless veterans are male, and the vast majority of them are single. About half of all homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, and more than two-thirds suffer from drug or alcohol abuse problems. Nearly 40% have both psychiatric and substance abuse disorders.

The V.A. has numerous programs to benefit homeless vets. Eligible homeless veterans may be eligible for such benefits as disability compensation, pension, education and training, health care, rehabilitation services, home loan guarantee, residential care, insurance, vocational assistance and employment and compensated work therapy.

Homeless vets in need of health care, can phone the V.A. National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838 and be connected to a trained V.A. responder. This is a free service to homeless veterans, who need not be registered or enrolled in V.A. healthcare. A homeless vet who calls may be connected with the Homeless Program point of contact through the nearest V.A. facility.

The V.A., through the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program, provides outreach, exams, treatment, referrals, and case management through trained and caring specialists, to provide the tools and support necessary to help veterans get their lives back on track.

Last year, V.A. provided health care services to more than 100,000 homeless veterans and its specialized homeless programs provided services to 70,000 vets. More than 40,000 homeless vets receive compensation or pension benefits annually. Although limited to veterans and their dependents, the V.A.’s major homeless programs constitute the largest integrated network of homeless assistance programs in the country, offering a wide array of services and initiatives to help veterans recover from homelessness and live as self-sufficiently and independently as possible. Nearly three-quarters of homeless veterans use V.A. health care services and 55% have used V.A. homeless services.

The V.A., using its own resources or in partnerships with others, has secured more than 15,000 residential rehabilitative, transitional and permanent beds for homeless veterans. The V.A. spends more than $1 billion from its health care and benefit assistance programs to aid tens of thousands of homeless and at-risk veterans. To increase this assistance, V.A. conducts outreach to connect homeless veterans to both mainstream and homeless-specific V.A. programs and benefits.

These programs strive to offer a continuum of services that include:

  1. Aggressive outreach to veterans living on the streets and in shelters who otherwise would not seek assistance;
  2. Clinical assessment and referral for treatment of physical and psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse;
  3. Long-term transitional residential assistance, case management and rehabilitation;
  4. Employment assistance and linkage with available income supports and permanent housing.

The V.A. has awarded more than 400 grants to public and nonprofit groups to assist homeless veterans in 50 states and D.C. to provide transitional housing, service centers and vans for transportation to services and employment.

The V.A. sponsors and supports national, regional and local homeless conferences and meetings, bringing together thousands of homeless providers and advocates to discuss community planning strategies and to provide technical assistance in such areas as transitional housing, mental health and family services, and education and employment opportunities for the homeless.

V.A. programs for the homeless include:

  1. Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program operates at 133 sites, where extensive outreach, physical and psychiatric health exams, treatment, referrals and ongoing case management are provided to homeless veterans with mental health problems, including substance abuse. This program assesses more than 40,000 veterans annually.
  2. Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans Program provides medical care and rehabilitation in a residential setting on V.A. medical center grounds to eligible ambulatory veterans disabled by medical or psychiatric disorders, injury or age and who do not need hospitalization or nursing home care. There are more than 1,800 beds available through the program at 34 sites. The program provides residential treatment to more than 5,000 homeless veterans each year. The domiciliaries conduct outreach and referral; admission screening and assessment; medical and psychiatric evaluation; treatment, vocational counseling and rehabilitation and post-discharge community support.
  3. Veterans Benefits Assistance at V.A. Regional Offices is provided by designated staff members who serve as coordinators and points of contact for homeless veterans. They provide outreach services and help expedite the processing of homeless veterans’ claims. The Homeless Eligibility Clarification Act allows eligible veterans without a fixed address to receive V.A. benefits checks at V.A. regional offices. The V.A. also has procedures to expedite the processing of homeless veterans’ benefits claims. Last year more than 35,000 homeless veterans received assistance and nearly 4,000 had their claims expedited by Veterans Benefits Administration staff members.
  4. Acquired Property Sales for Homeless Providers Program makes properties V.A. obtains through foreclosures on V.A.-insured mortgages available for sale to homeless providers at a discount of 20 to 50%. To date, more than 200 properties sold have been used to provide homeless people, including veterans, with nearly 400,000 sheltered nights in V.A. acquired property.
  5. Readjustment Counseling Service’s Vet Centers provide outreach, psychological counseling, supportive social services and referrals to other V.A. and community programs. Every Vet Center has a homeless veteran coordinator assigned to make sure services for homeless veterans are tailored to local needs. Annually, the program’s 207 Vet Centers see approximately 130,000 veterans and provide more than 1,000,000 visits to veterans and family members. More than 10,000 homeless veterans are served by the program each year.
  6. Veterans Industry/Compensated Work-Therapy and Compensated Work-Therapy/Transitional Residence Programs. Through these programs, the V.A. offers structured work opportunities and supervised therapeutic housing for at-risk and homeless veterans with physical, psychiatric and substance-abuse disorders. The V.A. contracts with private industry and the public sector for work by these veterans, who learn new job skills, re-learn successful work habits and regain a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Veterans are paid for their work and, in turn, make a payment toward maintenance and upkeep of the residence. Approximately 14,000 veterans participate in Compensated Work Therapy programs annually.
  7. HUD-V.A. Supported Housing Program is a joint program with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides permanent housing and ongoing treatment to homeless mentally ill veterans and those suffering from substance abuse disorders. HUD’s Section 8 voucher program has designated more than 1,750 vouchers worth $44.5 million for chronically mentally ill homeless veterans, and V.A. personnel at 34 sites provide outreach, clinical care and case management services.
  8. V.A.’s Supported Housing Program allows V.A. personnel to help homeless veterans secure long-term transitional or permanent housing. They also offer ongoing case management services to help the veterans remain in housing they can afford. V.A. staff work with private landlords, public housing authorities and nonprofit organizations to find housing arrangements. Veteran service organizations have been instrumental in helping V.A. establish these housing alternatives nationwide. V.A. staff at 22 supported housing program sites helped more than 1,400 homeless veterans find transitional or permanent housing in the community.
  9. Stand Downs are one-to three-day events that provide homeless veterans a range of services and allow V.A. and community-based service providers to reach more homeless veterans. Stand downs give homeless vets a temporary refuge where they can obtain food, shelter, clothing and a range of community and V.A. assistance. In many locations, stand downs provide health screenings, referral and access to long-term treatment, benefits counseling, ID cards and access to other programs to meet their immediate needs. Each year, the V.A. participates in more than 100 stand downs coordinated by local entities. Surveys show that more than 23,000 veterans and family members attend these events with more than 13,000 volunteers contributing annually.

A pending initiative: The U.S. Department of Labor and the V.A. are collaborating on a pilot project to assist veterans discharged from incarceration to avoid homelessness and re-incarceration.

Infographic: The Plight of Homeless Veterans

Homeless Veterans

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The Growing Problem of Homeless Female Veterans

Vintage Woman Soldier Veteran Bugler, WAF U.S, Air Force 1950sMemorial Day is over. The flood of stories and social media posts supporting the troops has subsided and for most people it is an ordinary Tuesday back at work. A lot of the veterans we paid homage to yesterday spent last night on the streets, and a growing percentage of them were female veterans.

Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions, recently noted the disturbing number of veterans “living rough” in the wake of serving our country (via The New York Times):

Right now, on any given night, roughly 68,000 veterans are homeless in the United States. Within that number, a group of at least 14,000 have been homeless for a year or more and suffer from at least one chronic — and costly to treat — health condition. These long-term, chronically homeless veterans typically don’t make it off the streets without specific, targeted help.

When you take into account the changing gender ratio of our military forces, these numbers become even more disquieting.

Annie Gowan of The Washington Post brings us the current statistics:

Officially, homeless female veterans number 3,328, a figure that doubled from 2006 to 2010, according to an estimate from the Government Accountability Office. The GAO says the data are incomplete and that the number is probably higher. Many of these homeless women are mothers, middle-aged or suffering from a disability.

Unfortunately there does not seem to be available data at this point on how many of those female veterans have children along with them.

The VA acknowledged in the report that there was an “acute” need to improve services for the growing number of female veterans. They are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems and to have suffered sexual trauma during their military service and have a greater risk of homelessness than their male counterparts, the report said.

Although the overall statistics on veteran homelessness show a steady reduction over the past few years, Gowan points out that the number of homeless women veterans is sharply rising.

On the bright side, we are slowly seeing awareness of the problem spread, and in some places solutions are actively being sought. In Fairfax, one organization is making strides in combating this exact issue.

Final Salute was founded by Jas Boothe, an Army National Guard captain. Not only did she serve our country, but she also lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, and was diagnosed with cancer in addition to becoming homeless herself. Eventually she was able to pull out of the nosedive and is remarried with a baby and a career as a human resources officer for the National Guard. Once she was back on her feet, she decided that her priority was to give back and help those who have suffered similar trials.

The result is a program that focuses on the needs of female veterans. The shelter can house a maximum of eight women and children at any given time, and residents have two years in which to get back on their feet.

In order to be admitted to the shelter, residents must commit to job training and, if they find work, contribute 20 percent of their income toward food and utilities. Final Salute currently has a waiting list of 20.

Granted that eight at a time is hardly a number that will dent the fearsome statistics we are facing, it is still a fantastic template for future efforts.

It is only the first step. We must take many more if we are to defeat this great enemy facing our soldiers.

The Stand Down in San Diego: Three Days on “60 Minutes”

Homeless Man with Two Flags in NYCSan Diego’s yearly Stand Down event just passed recently, hosted by one of the oldest and most well-known programs to help homeless veterans. In case you’re not familiar with it, The Veterans Village of San Diego website describes the program as follows:

In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. Today, Stand Down refers to a community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans ‘combat’ life on the streets.

VVSD organized the nation’s first Stand Down in 1988. Since then, the program has been widely replicated nationwide. Today, more than 200 Stand Downs take place across the country every year. ‘The program has become recognized as the most valuable outreach tool to help homeless veterans in the nation today,’ according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

This video report from The New York Times YouTube Channel provides an inside view of the 2009 Stand Down. Among other things, it looks at the growing and disturbing new demographic, homeless veteran women:

A stand down provides a number of basic services that are lacking in life on the streets: showers, haircuts, medical and dental attention, benefits assistance, counseling, 12-step meetings, and more. Some of these things, like the simple old-fashioned shower, we take for granted, yet having them makes all the difference in the world for those who lack them. How can you find a job and pull yourself up if you cannot even get clean enough for an interview?

While we cannot embed it in this post, the full 60 Minutes report is available online. You can watch it here.

When looking at social programs like this, we need to remember that many of these people simply need a hand up, not a handout. The investment in our community returns manyfold in both tangible and intangible ways. This is why we always talk about our stance on this subject being a bipartisan win-win scenario. From the conservative perspective, rehabilitating the homeless back into society makes sound financial sense — as it will reduce the overall cost to the system over the long term.

From the liberal perspective, the socially conscious angle is the one that is of most importance. The vital thing is to note that despite the differences in how they reach that conclusion, both sides of the political equation should find it easy to see that it is, indeed, more expensive to do nothing!

Source: “WATCH: Can Three Days Make A Difference For Homeless Veterans?,” The Huffington Post, 10/17/10
Source: “Homeless Vets: Does Anyone Care?,” CBS News, 10/17/10
Image by NYCUrbanscape, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Homelessness: Facebook Resources

HUMANE EXPOSURESHere at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we believe in the power of the Internet to inform and mobilize people. This is one of the reasons that this blog exists.

Since we have just launched our new Facebook pages, we thought this would be a good time to share some of the groups and organizations on Facebook that also champion the cause of those discarded by society.

So, here, in no particular order, is a list of Facebook pages that you may find informative. Please visit them. (And, if you like our work, we would really appreciate it if you “Like” our new pages and help them start off on the right foot.)

We’re going to list our own new pages first and move on from there:

  • Humane Exposures Publishing — The main Facebook Page for our company. Updates on new films and books as well as a variety of new  items and resources. The books of HUMANE EXPOSURES PUBLISHING take a penetrating look at society’s disenfranchised, questioning how long we can ignore the broken segments of our population, and at what cost. If you stop by, please tell us what kind of content you would like to see more of!
  • downTownUSA: A Personal Journey With the Homeless (book) — Author and photographer Susan Madden Lankford kept a journal during her daily encounters with the San Diego’s street people, observing how even the defeated, or seemingly so, share many of our hopes and dreams.
  • Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time (book) – Through thought-provoking photographs and interviews, the author explores the kaleidoscope of alienation, personal despair, and fragile hopes of women caught up in the state’s zeal for incarceration.
  • It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing (film) – Important documentary film questions how long society can ignore the broken segments of our population and advocates for public awareness, correcting the underlying social issues, and improving the essential parenting skills.

The following is a list of other resources. All descriptions are quoted directly:

  • Feeding Pets of the Homeless — Feeding Pets of the Homeless is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinarian care to the homeless and less fortunate in local communities across the United States and Canada. How? Our volunteers collection sites receive donated pet food and deliver it to food banks and/or soups kitchens which have agreed to distribute the food to the homeless and impoverished.
  • PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) — In 2004, PATH reached its 20th year of existence. From a small program operating out of a church basement, PATH has now become a large regional agency serving over 1,800 people each month. The agency has developed a model of integrated services that communities from all over the state, the nation, and even internationally have looked to for replication.
  • InvisiblePeople.tv — Dedicated to capturing real stories by real people bringing visibility to the issues of homelessness. Our goal: for homeless people to no longer remain invisible. The stories are told by real people in their own very real words. They’re raw, uncensored and unedited. CAUTION: Some content may be offensive. Our hope is that you’ll get mad enough to do something. (Note: We’ve covered the InvisiblePeople.tv in an earlier post.)
  • Let’s get 1,500,000 people to support the 1,500,000 homeless kids in the US — This page was started by a small group of people committed to raising awareness and providing solutions around a problem we feel is not being properly addressed. It began with a question: “How is it that the wealthiest country in the world has well over a million of its children living on the street, not knowing where they will sleep tonight?”
  • The National Coalition for The Homeless — A national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness. We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. At the same time, we work to meet the immediate needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of doing so. We take as our first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Toward this end, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing. We focus our work in the following four areas: housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.
  • Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project — Real Change exists to create opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) – A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a 17-member board of directors… is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.
  • Breaking Night: My Journey From Homeless to Harvard (book) – In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night by Liz Murray is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age 15 was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.
  • Healthcare for The Homeless, Inc. — For 25 years, HCH has provided comprehensive health care, mental health services, case management, addiction treatment, and housing assistance for tens of thousands of Marylanders experiencing homelessness.
  • Horizons for Homeless Children — Horizons for Homeless Children strives to improve the lives of homeless children and their families by providing the nurturing, stimulation and opportunities for early education and play that all children need to learn and grow in a healthy way.

So there you have it, please let us know if you would like to see more roundups of this nature. If so, we could make it a regular feature.

Source: Facebook.
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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Photo Exhibit Documents Homeless Vets in Minnesota

Put on by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund (GMHF), a photography show called “Portraits of Home II: Veterans in Search of Shelter in Greater Minnesota” uses art and documentation to put human faces to the tragedy of our street population. The attitude and the ethical concepts behind the exhibit are stated on the GMHF website:

Art, especially photography, can be a powerful tool for increasing public awareness of the affordable housing crisis facing people in Greater Minnesota. Photographs personalize the human impacts of poor housing conditions and homelessness. They capture the dignity and resiliency of people managing everyday life with few resources and the positive changes that can occur with stable housing. Greater Minnesota Housing Fund is making this compelling exhibit available to local communities throughout 2009 and 2010 in order to touch the hearts and minds of policymakers, local leaders and residents, and to inform these stakeholders of the specific actions they can take to address the housing challenges faced by a growing number of Minnesota families.

The show seems to be doing a good job of generating discussion of the issue. Currently at Winona State University, it was written up in the Winona Daily News:

Ruth Charles, a WSU professor, helped coordinate the event. She hopes the exhibit serves as ‘a piece of education’ and ‘makes the connection’ to viewers that all too often troops are not supported when they return home.

The photos capture an ‘incredibly important piece of history,’ especially right now, as ‘we’ll have a tsunami of veterans coming back to the states’ from Iraq and Afghanistan, said Stormi Greener, a freelance photographer whose work is on display in the exhibit.

One veteran whose photo appears in Minne Hall was deployed to Iraq for 22 months, during which time the house he had been living in was sold. Photographer Brian Lesteberg captures the veteran sitting in the open trunk of his car, where he has been living for more than three months.

We obviously believe in the power of art, image and narrative as catalysts for change. Just take a look at our published offerings. It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and, in cases like these, we’d say that it’s certainly true. You can quote the dismal statistics of the situation, or you can show someone a picture of a child living on the streets. All too often, it’s the image that catches people’s attention first, and that’s why shows like this one are vitally important.

Take a look at Susan Madden Lankford’s downTown USA: A Personal Journey with The Homeless, or Deborah Luster‘s “One Big Self” to see how much humanity can be communicated by a simple photograph. And, really, that is what is so often absent — simple humanity. While walking past a homeless person in the street, most people have trained themselves to look away, but that same reflex does not occur when they’re looking at photos. We would wager that viewing photos like this provides the first in-depth perception of homelessness for more than a few people.

Source: “Portraits of Home II,” Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, undated
Source: “WSU photo exhibit shines a light on homeless veterans,” Winona Daily News, 09/17/10
Image by NAME, used under its Creative Commons license

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Veterans Make Up 35% of the San Diego Homeless

Homeless and coldAs you walk through the streets of San Diego, or any other American city, you will see the homeless. People living rough in the urban landscape. Each one is somebody’s brother, mother, son, cousin, or spouse. In addition, many of them had fought for our country.

Dylan Mann, a contributor to Voice of San Diego, says it well:

You see them in the medians at intersections and at the bottom of freeway off-ramps. Suntanned and weary in camouflage pants, they hold magic-markered signs announcing: ‘HOMELESS VET — ANYTHING HELPS — GOD BLESS.’ And you feel empathy for them, don’t you? No matter what you think of our nation’s military campaigns, it’s undeniable that here before you is a person that once served our country, but now he sleeps outside and isn’t sure when he’ll eat next.

Because of good weather and a high cost of living, San Diego has a lot of homeless people. There are 8,500 homeless people [PDF] in the county and 35 percent of them (3,000) are veterans. The relatively high proportion of veterans among San Diego’s homeless is probably due to our proximity to military bases.

Among the homeless nationwide, veterans comprise 20-25%. Now, it is no secret that the strain of combat can create a wide variety of mental ailments. From “shell shock,” to “battle fatigue,” to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — the name has changed repeatedly while the ailment itself has remained a constant backbeat to our international conflicts. Is this the prime cause behind the number of veterans on the streets? Maybe not. Mann continues:

But, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, only a third of homeless veterans were ever stationed in a combat zone. So, why are the other two-thirds on the streets? Unfortunately, nobody knows for sure.

While there may not be certainty about the cause, there are at least some possibilities:

The Rosenheck-Fontana study of Vietnam veterans shows various correlations, but its takeaways are not entirely clear. The study’s major finding was that if upon returning to civilian life, veterans had low levels of social support, non-PTSD psychological disorders, substance abuse, or were unmarried, they were significantly more likely than their peers to be homeless.

The factors should look familiar if you have been following our work. They are circumstances that crop up repeatedly in our examination of homelessness and other social justice issues. Likewise, Mann cites additional factors that are, again, familiar to us from our prior research:

Additionally, it identified several factors that predisposed soldiers to homelessness. If vets had been foster children or had significant childhood trauma (e.g. physical, sexual, etc.) before entering the military, they were more likely to be homeless, whether or not they saw combat while in the service. These results could suggest that strong emotional development in childhood is necessary for soldiers to reintegrate into civilian society. Alternatively, they might mean that troubled youth are more likely than their peers to join the military. But, in the end, we can’t definitively say why so many non-combat veterans end up being homeless. The more important question, of course, is ‘How do we get them off the streets and back to normal, productive lives?’

And that, indeed, is the crux of the matter — how to reintegrate these people into the everyday society they have left behind? Switching our emphasis from retribution to rehabilitation is one approach that seems to consistently yield greater and more lasting results when encountered in practice. Mann spends almost half of his column on examining the Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD). It seems like a very interesting project, one of the few that works in conjunction with — rather than in opposition to — the Veterans Administration.  Just click the link under the Sources (below) to read more.

Source: “Why So Many Homeless Vets in San Diego?,” San Diego Voice, 08/25/10
Image by Ed Yourdon, used under its Creative Commons license.

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