With the worst of winter upon us, it’s time to keep an eye out for street people — a significant number of whom are military veterans.
Many refuse to go to local shelters for any number of reasons. They may not like the religious atmosphere of some shelters, or a sober requirement for staying there; they may have emotional issues that have eroded their trust.
But sometimes a veteran homeless person will respond to a fellow vet’s outreach after others have failed. Recognizing this, the Veterans Administration has set up a hotline for homeless vets: 1-877-4-AID-VET. In plain arithmetic, that’s 1-877-424-3838.
Finding how many vets are homeless is a tricky business. According to the Illinois chapter of Volunteers of America, “approximately 1,000 veterans are homeless (in Chicago) on any given night.” Statewide a 2011 National Alliance to End Homelessness study estimated that 14,055 people are homelessness each night in Illinois, and 15 percent of those are veterans — more than 2,100.
The VA estimates that there are more than 65,000 veterans homeless each night in the US. An NAEH study estimated that 46 percent of homeless vets are white males, and 46 percent are at least 45 years old.
Many homeless vets were good troops. VOA has found that nine of 10 homeless vets were honorably discharged and that one-third served in combat. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is “a significant factor in the high rate of homelessness for veterans,” according to VOA (for a comprehensive look at the issue, go to http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34024.pdf “Veterans and Homelessness,” research done for the US Congress).
Each year VOA is able to help about 250 Chicago homeless vets through a variety of services. For example, the organization runs Hope Manor Apartments, an 80-unit complex for homeless vets on the West Side, which the VA has found to have a high concentration of homeless veterans. The apartment complex was built with funds from the VA and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on property donated by the City of Chicago.
On the South Side, Catholic Charities runs the St. Leo Campus for homeless vets in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. The facility was a response to what the charity’s Web site calls “a significant increase of vets who come to us for help.” The campus includes a residence, an outpatient clinic, a “veterans garden,” and a residence for people with physical disabilities.
These are only two facilities in a local network for homeless vets. The easiest way for a homeless vet to plug into the network is to call the VA hotline.
With cold weather, ice and snow abounding, the most important aspect of the homeless veterans issue is not compiling statistics or assigning blame. It is getting warm bodies off of the mean streets, where trained professionals can help veterans face their issues.
“The needs of our military veterans are real,” Abraham House-El told the Chicago Reporter. House-El, who runs a 52-bed facility for homeless vets in South Shore, said, “They do exist. They exist for an array of reasons. There’s no one reason why one person is homeless, so seeing them get those issues identified is so important.”