Homeless veterans, and how to help them
On any given night, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are approximately 40,000 homeless veterans sleeping on the street as of 2016. In 2010, the VA estimated that there were about 76,000 veterans who were sleeping on the streets. While progress has been made over the years to cut that number nearly in half, there are still thousands of homeless vets who have served in various conflicts throughout the decades, ranging from the Korean War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Due to the transient nature of the homeless, the exact number of vets without a home may never be identified. Even though current estimates hover at just under 40,000, the ideal number should be zero.
1. Educate yourself
There are countless ways for a military veteran to end up homeless. Sudden loss of a job, combined with the lack of affordable housing is a surefire way to end up on the streets. Domestic violence, illness, and even divorce can render someone without the safety of a home.
Sometimes, people are quick to assume that a veteran may end up homeless because of drug and alcohol abuse. While this may be true in some cases, that homeless veteran still deserves a warm and safe place to get their life back on track.
Many war time veterans suffer from wounds which are unseen, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or even Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Symptoms of those disorders can make life difficult for a veteran, often making it hard to hold meaningful relationships or function properly in a civilian workforce. In addition, it’s not uncommon for a veteran to fall victim to the myriad of pain medications (which can lead to addiction) or anti-depressants prescribed by the VA, both of which can easily affect that persons life significantly in a negative way.
Related: PTSD Symptoms: A guide to understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
2. Donate clothing and non-perishable items
Clothing donations can be a great way to help out a homeless veteran. Important items to consider are socks and underwear. Something as simple as a fresh pair of socks can make all the difference in a homeless veterans day. While delivering clothing donations to homeless veterans directly is the quickest way to help, it is advised that you don’t do this alone.
The VA states that up to 80% of homeless veterans may suffer from mental health or substance abuse disorders and it can be risky seeking out homeless veterans on your own.
This isn’t to say that homeless veterans are dangerous, but rather there is risk involved in dealing with any demographic of the entire homeless population.
If you are uncomfortable donating directly to a homeless veteran in need, there are many charitable organizations such as the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) who will gladly take on the task.
The National Veterans Homeless Support (NVHS) is another non-profit organization that will gladly accept donations for distribution directly to homeless vets.
Organizations such as the NVHS and DAV have a high demand for other items such as:
- Canned food
- Sleeping bags
- Small propane tanks for camping
A great way to truly help a homeless veteran is to volunteer your time. This can be done at local homeless shelters where homeless vets are likely to end up. You can volunteer to serve food, or even use your time to teach useful skills such as typing, writing a resume, or another language.
For veterans who are in transitional housing, if you have experience as a mental health or substance abuse counselor, or even a legal aide, volunteering those skills can go a long way to helping a veteran their affairs in order. The possibilities here are up to you and what you are capable of.
4. Show respect
Being homeless is demoralizing enough as it is. One of the best things you can do for a homeless veteran, or any homeless person, is acknowledge their existence. For many, the loss of dignity takes a harder toll on morale more than the loss of physical possessions ever could. Even saying “good afternoon” or getting to know that person can have a remarkable impact on their confidence, making them feel like a human being again rather than just invisible.
There are homeless veterans out there that need any help they can get, share this with friends and family and spread the word