17
Dec
08

186. Home for The Brave:Part I

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Blogging in cyberspace is an interesting endeavor. When you blog on  homeless veterans’ issues it’s a pretty sure bet that most folks who pass by this site do so without much thought to the plight of our homeless veterans. Afterall, just one click will take readers to a variety of topics that are much more lighthearted than hearing about our brave men and women of the military who find themselves living in poverty and without shelter in this country. So, it was with great enthusiasm that Wanderingvets was asked to post an essay about homeless veterans in Maine by a reader who feels that our homeless veterans are deserving of so much more national attention than what they have been given. Wanderingvets feel downright delighted to know that there are people out their who give pause to the plight of our veterans and are honored to be a place where homeless veteran advocates can share their thoughts.

In corresponding with the author of this essay I asked what  infomation they would like to share with readers.

I am a concerned citizen.  I am not a veteran nor is anyone in my family currently in the service, although my husband’s family has a long history of service to the country.  My work involves assisting communities with implementation and use of data collection systems to support homeless advocacy and funding opportunities.  I have two Associate degrees – one in Business and one in Computer Sciences.  I am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Sciences as a pre-cursor to a Masters in Research.  My long term goals are to work from my home doing research for communities on social issues.


Homes for the Brave:

Ending Veteran Homelessness in Maine

Introduction

The United States is known worldwide for its military strength. Since the birth of our nation, we have defended our basic beliefs of freedom on domestic and foreign soil – initially freeing ourselves from legislative and religious persecution, and then providing critical support to allies in times of peace and war, protecting innocent civilians during times of international crisis, providing humanitarian efforts during natural disasters, and more recently, protecting ourselves from the long-extended arm of terrorism. Integral to the success of our military are the thousands of men and women who choose service to country as a career and the thousands more who make up our Reserve forces. In 2007, there were 1,000,000 U.S. citizens in the military1.

Military Service-Members represent the best in all of us: a dedication to a sense of duty, willingness to stand and fight for what they believe in, a willingness to protect others and their property above themselves. They are grounded, disciplined, clear-sighted, dedicated, responsible, hardworking, and steadfast. Veterans are more stable than non-veterans, with only a 5.8% poverty rate compared to the 12.3% of their non-veteran counterparts2. They are more likely than the general population to be homeowners (80% of veterans versus 69% of the general population) and nearly half of those have paid off their mortgages and own their homes “free and clear”3.

So how can it be that there were 154,000 homeless veterans in the United States in 20074?

Veteran Homelessness in Maine

Maine has a veteran population of 144,0075. Of that population, 478 self-identified6 veterans were homeless at one time or another during 20077. They were primarily white men and more than half were between the ages of 45 and 54. While the percentage of homeless veterans in Maine is lower than the national average, there is also an exponentially disparate lack of programs and services to address the needs of the veterans living in the state. Veterans are also becoming homeless and requesting services much sooner than in the past – after Vietnam, it generally took 9 to 12 years for a veteran’s circumstances to deteriorate to the point of homelessness. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking services within just a few months of returning from tours of duty. Additionally, the estimates for homeless veterans is considered significantly higher than reported through Maine’s statewide Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) for two noteworthy reasons: not all homeless service providers are contributing data to the system and for those that are, an alarmingly, statistically significant, number of responses on veteran status is missing.

Even without a more accurate accounting of veterans experiencing homelessness in Maine, research shows there is already a significant gap in services for identified veterans. Housing alone is inadequate. There are currently only 18 beds available specifically for homeless vets: 5 emergency beds at the Togus VA Center in Augusta, 8 transitional (2 year stay limit) in Southern Maine, and 5 permanent beds in Waterville. Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) jointly released funds for 35 permanent housing vouchers earmarked for veterans8, which will eventually produce a total of 40 permanent housing units for needy veterans in Maine to compliment the 8 transitional housing units already in existence. These efforts, if realized today, still address only 10% of the known need for veteran housing. Coupled with the knowledge that more veterans are returning home every day (some of whom will be identified during reintegration as being at risk for homelessness), it is a fair assessment to say that our inability to stabilize and care for our veterans experiencing homelessness is a significant failure of public policy. As an example, a search of Maine’s Plan to End & Prevent Homelessness9, adopted by the Statewide Homeless Council recently (March 2008), shows that the words “veteran” or “vet” do not appear even once – even though analysis on veteran homelessness showed significant need (reported in the Homelessness in Maine – 2007 10 report). This omission in the primary planning guide for homeless services in Maine showcases the lack of understanding of the need, the lack of understanding of the exponential cost of veteran homelessness, the lack of desire to address it, and a serious disrespect for the men and women in Maine who served our country.

The Affect of Veteran Homelessness on Individuals and Communities

Homelessness as a social issue affects both the victims of the condition and the communities in which they experience it. This condition is particularly heinous in regard to homeless veterans, who have given pieces of their lives, bodies, and minds to protect us.

Like non-veteran homelessness, veteran homelessness is expensive. Homelessness is far more expensive than a permanent housing solution11 and the cost to community resources (emergency medical care, criminal justice system, and emergency housing and food programs) is exponentially increased because of the greater degree of medical, substance abuse, and mental illness needs of the homeless veteran population. Not treating conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) increase a client’s likelihood of becoming chronically homeless, enhancing the significant risks already known to cause homelessness. Homeless veterans experience the same homeless indicators as non-veterans: health issues, economic hardships, lack of affordable housing, access to support networks, and personal characteristics. However, veterans experience an expanded set of risks: prolonged separation from traditional supports such as family and close friends, highly stressful training and occupational demands, extended and/or multiple deployments, combat exposure, unit transfers, disrupted family status, injury, diminished function, and non-transferability of skills to civilian jobs. TBI alone results in a broad range of physical, behavioral, emotional and social challenges. Compounding these risks, services available to veterans as they return home are sadly lacking – reintegration/ transition services are insufficient and resources through general homeless service providers are already operating at maximum capacity and are unable to handle the volume. This lack of service drastically decreases the chance of a successful adjustment to civilian life by producing an unstable support network, under and unemployment, untreated mental illness, and a higher instance of veterans dropping out of the workforce due to unresolved mental and substance abuse issues.

Like non-veteran homelessness, veteran homelessness reflects on our societal beliefs as a nation, impacting our global reputation and international perceptions of the U.S. In many foreign countries, the military is considered both an honor and the best of career opportunities – veterans are revered and well cared for in exchange for their current and past contributions to military and country. The U.S. military also provides many opportunities for admirable careers, but lack of planning for reintegration processes, medical needs, and volume reflect poorly on the most powerful country in the world.

The negative impact that homelessness has on communities is a serious issue, particularly when the victims present as veterans. Aside from affecting a community’s ability to attract new residents, businesses, and tourists, the presence of street homeless who appear as veterans adds to the sense of a community’s disrespect for those who have suffered on our behalf and raises serious questions about a community’s treatment of its citizens.

TO BE CONTINUED…….

Wanderingvets would like extend our sincere appreciation to the author of this essay. Feel free to leave your comments as the author will address comments though this site.

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