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By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Strands of matted hair seep through a hole in a knitted hat, adding to Mathew’s shoddy appearance. A scarf hides part of his unshaven beard and holes in his gloves expose fingernails caped with dirt. The brutal winter cold is kept in check thanks to a calf-length winter coat given to him by a generous passerby. He hopes to get donations to buy food each day from those who respond to his sign stating, “Homeless Vet needs support. God bless”.
At night, Mathew goes home to a tent posted under a nearby freeway bridge.
Mathew is a veteran who has fallen on hard times. He’s lived primarily under a bridge for over a year. He served three years in the military during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was honorably discharged. He came home with physical scars that healed with time but untreated mental wounds that still fester today. He turned to alcohol to try to conceal his mental anguish and ended up divorce, unemployed and ultimately homeless.
Like Mathew, thousands of veterans are homeless.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development reported that about 37,878 veterans were homeless in January 2018, which was less than the 40,020 homeless veterans reported during the same time a year ago. About 14,566 veterans live in places, like tents and doorways, not meant for human habitation.
“We owe it to our Veterans to make certain they have a place to call home,” said HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson. “We’ve made great strides in our efforts to end Veteran homelessness, but we still have a lot of work to do to ensure those who wore our nation’s uniform have access to stable housing.”
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the primary causes of veteran homelessness is due to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and the inability to transition from military occupations to the civilian workforce.
Agencies such as the Veteran’s Administration and local housing programs are rendering support to veterans to end homelessness.
“In ‘Home, Together,’ the new federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, we redoubled our commitment to ending homelessness among Veterans and among all Americans,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Working together at the federal, state and local level, we can and will continue to make progress until all Americans have a stable home from which they can pursue opportunity.”
In Detroit, Square One, a 501 C3 nonprofit organization, will give homeless veterans a new lease on life.
“The purpose is to house homeless veterans and to provide food, employment skills, and computer training. It’s a transitional facility to help them to get back on their feet and to live independent,” said Edward Turner, CEO and property manager.
Skills and resources needed to become self-sufficient are provided at Square One that will service 80 to 100 veterans and provide housing at three cottages.
“We’re community-based and our program is built around serving the whole person by connecting with community partners to make sure all of their needs are served,” said Albina Holland-Robinson, administrative manager. “We’re making sure we address everything – food, housing, clothing, financial assistance and healthcare needs. We’re there to support them. If we can’t address it, we will refer them to someone who can through our collaborative partnerships.”
Besides offering housing, the facility will also contain an onsite dialysis center and adult day care that will provide a safe nurturing environment with social activities to seniors in the community.
Property owners can also assist veterans by participating in the HUD - Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, a collaborative effort among the HUD, VA and local public housing authorities. The program offers fair market rent to landlords. Additional information is provided online at va.gov/homeless/landlords.asp.
“VA, HUD, and our federal, state and local partners are proud of the significant decline in veteran homelessness achieved in recent years; however, important work remains,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The housing choice vouchers and wraparound supportive service will improve the lives of many veterans who are currently homeless by helping them find a place to call home and reintegrate back into their families and communities.”
Concerned citizens hope Mathew and others like him will seek help from the VA to come out of the cold and to achieve a permanent place to call home.
“Our veterans risked their lives for people in our country to enjoy the freedoms that we have today,” said Howard Woods, a regular donor to veteran organizations. “No one who fought for this country should have to fight to have a roof over their head. Our veterans deserve a place to call home.”