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Homeless Vets — The Good News

LEGO Mini Construction Site

Around the country, some hearty efforts are being made to make the phrase “Homeless Veterans” obsolete. In Jewett City, Connecticut, the American Legion Veterans Housing, Inc. recently held a groundbreaking ceremony. Legion Post 15 is renovating its old building, and putting up a new building which will contain 18 one-bedroom apartments, an uncredited article tells us. These units are of the “supportive housing” variety.

Supportive housing basically means that the inhabitants, who have special needs, are not just left on their own. They have caseworkers, aides, and various other people watching over them. Regarding the physical plant, the plans include an energy-efficient thermal heating system, conference rooms, counseling rooms, offices, and an exercise room. William Czmyr, the organization’s president, is quoted as saying:

Seven years ago, at one of our meetings, we discussed the military creed ‘that no comrade is left behind.’ Today, as the culmination of that discussion, we are excited to break ground and see our dream for these deserving veterans become a reality.

David Abel, staff writer for the Boston Globe, recently profiled Vietnam veteran Tom Clark. Yes, there are still plenty of them around. The number of homeless veterans is not constant, but of that number, about half are Vietnam-era vets. Clark was getting ready to move into the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

It’s apparently run like a condominium association, so the people who move in will build equity. There is a $2,500 deposit and the payments are as much as $740 per month. (Government words, the link is ours: “The amount of basic benefit paid ranges from $123 to over $3,100 per month, depending on your level of disability and number of dependents.” But financial help is available. And just across the parking lot, there are therapists and social workers. It’s not a just a building, it’s a community, with mental health and addiction services.

Soldier On was the group that set this in motion. This nonprofit organization has been providing shelter and services, and its president, Jack Downing, believes that the answer to homelessness is housing. Soldier On also plans to repurpose the state police training facility into another 120 housing units, and create even more housing in other locations.

Abel quotes a fellow from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Peter Dougherty, who directs the homeless veterans’ programs. He says,

There’s nowhere else like this in the country. It offers a unique opportunity to take veterans that have been homeless and turn them into homeowners. It really is an opportunity that has not happened in other places yet. We’re really interested in seeing how well it works.

In the southwest part of the country, we learn from Sadie Jo Smokey of The Arizona Republic, a plan will be unfolding over the next year and a half. Many veterans have less than $15,000 a year coming in, an amount small enough to ensure economic homelessness, the condition of people who can’t afford housing even though they have income. But the Arizona Department of Housing has done something about housing tax credits that will help encourage builders to construct apartments that these veterans can afford.

A complex called Madison Point (60 units in two buildings) is planned near the Veterans Administration medical center. Another development is planned that will include 75 apartments. Additionally, Smokey’s account also tells of a home for women veterans called Mary Ellen’s Place:

Named in honor of the late Mary Ellen Piotrowski, former chairwoman of Unified Arizona Veterans, the Sunnyslope community calls for 16 apartments that would rent for $250 month.

These are a few of the encouraging signs that the nation is becoming more conscious of the need to house veterans. Of course, those who are able to work need to make a living wage, and we encourage the adoption of the Universal Living Wage, as outlined by Richard R. Troxell in Looking Up at the Bottom Line. The Universal Living Wage would end homelessness for more than a million minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for more than 10 million minimum-wage workers.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless veterans housing project gets under way in Griswold,” TheDay.com, 11/16/10
Source: “A haven for homeless veterans,” Soldier On, 11/08/10
Source: “Availability of affordable housing rentals to increase for veterans,” AZCEntral.com, 12/18/10
Image by Bucklava (Buck), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Homeless Vets: Why We All Should Care

UK VeteranOn Christmas weekend, Bob Woodruff of ABC News presented a report on homeless veterans, and cited the statistic that on any given day, 107,000 vets are homeless (including 9,000 from Iraq and Afghanistan). Women vets are homeless at twice the rate of men, proportionate to their total numbers. (Unfortunately, Woodruff repeats the old story of how Vietnam veterans were spat upon by civilians when they returned, an urban myth which Jerry Lembcke wrote an entire book to disprove, but these news guys keep perpetuating it anyway.)

Last time, we talked about the dispute over the exact number of people experiencing homelessness who are also military veterans. We understand that exactness in numbers is desirable for writing reports and apportioning tax dollars. Nobody here is anti-numbers. But it’s vital to remember that debating (or quibbling) over numbers can easily become an end in itself, and it can drain energy from our good intentions. We end up merely quantifying the world rather than changing it. We quoted Mary Cunningham of the Urban Institute, who said,

In general, it’s important to remember that there are far too many homeless who are veterans.

And there it is: Far. Too. Many. Thirty-three percent is too many, 23% is too many, 13% is too many, and 3% is too many.

Following are two messages for the two extreme types of Americans, and anybody else who is reading along can extrapolate themselves in between, wherever it’s appropriate.

Message #1 is for the enthusiastic patriot who fully endorses every military adventure the U.S. has ever involved itself in, who believes in maintaining military superiority and supporting the troops. This person is happy to know that U.S. military spending is more than the entire rest of the world combined.

Here’s the message: You, more than anybody, ought to be out there making sure the government keeps its promises to veterans. If you love seeing the red-white-&-blue flying over landscapes, how can you lose sight of the fact that these are the people who make it happen? Veterans are the ones who went to some miserable place and got wounded in various ways, and watched their friends fall victim to horrible fates. We won’t go into it all here, but the saying “War is hell” came into being for a reason.

So, never mind the yellow ribbons and the bumper stickers. Do something concrete. Support the troops by making sure they get everything they need once they are back in America. And that includes government recognition and acknowledgement of mysterious ailments caused by exposure to defoliants and depleted uranium, and whatever else was in the arsenal that was supposed to defeat the enemy, and defeated our own troops instead by making them sick.

People who are in favor of the military culture should not even need to be reminded that every veteran deserves the very best that the country can do for him or her. Now, the harder sell.

Message #2 is for the peace lovers who mistrust and resent every vestige of militarism. Here’s the message: It is possible to hate war and not hate veterans. Just because they wore a uniform, they do not deserve to be homeless pariahs. Some of them didn’t even go voluntarily. There are still Vietnam-era veterans around, including plenty of draftees.

People enlist for many different reasons. Some are idealists, whose beliefs about creating a good world are just as sincere as your own. Some joined up hoping for job training that would be applicable in civilian life, and weren’t taught anything except an obscure skill useful only to the military. Why blame them? They got screwed twice. No skill usable on the outside, plus they got so messed up, one way or another, that they couldn’t hold a job if somebody had offered them one.

Who knows what recruiters are promising these days, but there was a time when a stint in the military looked quite attractive to an awful lot of people, for a multitude of reasons. It might have been the only way out from an intolerable home situation. If a boy’s father made drill sergeants seem warm and cuddly by comparison, the Army was an acceptable escape. And to parentless kids who age out of group homes or foster care, in many cases the security offered by another institution, even the army, could look pretty good.

Whether or not one personally agrees, it is a fact that many a judge has offered a juvenile delinquent the choice between enlistment and jail. A lot of people ended up in the military that way. Not because they wanted to slaughter foreigners, but because they didn’t want to be locked up or acquire a criminal record. I knew a guy who joined up because his parents raided his college fund to buy his brother an expensive toy. That left the G. I. Bill as his only hope for pursuing higher education. He didn’t want to go kill babies. He wanted to get a degree.

Here’s one for the spiritual descendents of hippies and flower children. Often, the most gentle and tender-hearted of the recruits become the veterans with the most severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They couldn’t successfully be turned into the kind of people who can stomach doing the things that soldiers sometimes do. They came back and went all dysfunctional. They need treatment, and if they can’t get it, they at least need some compassion and a new pair of socks now and then. Anybody who cracked up because he or she didn’t “have what it takes” to enjoy being a professional soldier is a person worth saving.

Moving on to libertarians, the attitude about militarism varies, but one thing is clear: Since World War II, every conflict we’ve been involved in was undertaken without a constitutionally-mandated declaration of war. Still, it isn’t the veterans’ fault. Probably any libertarian would agree that any contract made by a government with a member of its armed services should definitely be lived up to by that government.

Currently, many libertarians are angry because the federal government is profiling Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as potential terrorists. No kidding. Here is Paul Joseph Watson on the subject:

The government seems to be obsessed with targeting disgruntled veterans with pre-crime and other unconstitutional forms of surveillance, demonization and harassment… The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Mind Machine Project… is primarily aimed at weeding out ‘troubled veterans’ who may be planning to commit terrorist bombings or political assassinations, by illegally wiretapping their phone calls and Internet communications in order to build psychological profiles.

No matter where you are on the political spectrum or what your feelings are about war and the military, every last American has sufficient reasons to be incensed about the homeless veterans, and ought to be.

Reactions?

Source: “Fighting Abroad, Homeless at Home — ABC News,” ABC News, 12/26/10
Source: “Spitting on the Troops: Old Myth, New Rumors,” VVAW.org
Source: “Veterans commission representative says one in three homeless men is a veteran,” PolitiFact.com, 01/10/11
Source: “Feds Use Pre-Crime To Target Disgruntled Veterans,” MilitantLibertarian.org, 10/01/10
Image by Basterous, used under its Creative Commons license.

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How Austin’s Annual Homeless Memorial Service Began

NatureComing up next week, November 14-21, is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, observed throughout the country. In Austin, Texas, the week starts off with the Homeless Memorial Sunrise Service, an opportunity for friends and anyone who cares to pay their respects to those who are no longer with us. At House the Homeless, you can find complete information about this year’s memorial, along with the recollections and photos from last year’s Memorial Sunrise Service.

Yesterday, November 11, was the official publication date of Looking Up at the Bottom Line by Richard R. Troxell. This book tells us why we should all be fighting for the Universal Living Wage, and gives the history of Richard R. Troxell’s commitment to housing the homeless. It includes many stories commemorating members of the homeless community who have been lost.

Some say the most moving story in the book is that of Diane Malloy, who sought a temporary roof over her head at the Salvation Army shelter with her fiancé, Jim Tynan. Diane had suffered from a persistent cough for weeks, but couples weren’t allowed at the facility, so they were turned away. Somebody told them about a dry creek bed that would be a semi-protected place to stay in.

But rain came, bringing a flash flood, during which Diane had disappeared. Jim looked for her all over town, and, by the time he met Richard, the sick woman had been missing for three days. Richard got his kayak and the two men searched the creek, and found Diane’s drowned body. Then followed some unpleasant hours with the police. Richard says,

Apparently, Jim Tynan had made yet another judgment error. When he had reported Diane’s disappearance, he had been honest and told the detective that they were homeless — big mistake. Had he left that one detail out, the police would have been looking for her. We would have heard that the boy scouts, the girl scouts, the water rescue team, and the police had been searching for a young woman who may have become a drowning victim… Instead, they never looked.

Diane Breisch Malloy had been an employed citizen, working for 10 years with the phone company, but after using up all her sick leave she was let go. Two months later, she was dead.

Richard writes that since his tour of duty in Vietnam, he had been concentrating more on life than on death. But Diane’s death was a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment. Thinking back, he realized that in the last three years, he knew of 23 people experiencing homelessness who had died. And that was the beginning of the Homeless Memorial Sunrise Service, first held in 1992. This is its 18th year, with more names added every year to the roll of the deceased.

This was told to me as an example of homeless humor. It’s a joke a with a real punchline:

‘What does the street person do when he gets sick?’
‘He dies.’

In an effort to prevent as much needless death as possible, House the Homeless carries out an annual health survey in Austin. The 2010 survey was filled out by 85 females, 408 males, and 8 transgender persons. The results were not good. In this group of people experiencing homelessness, over 200 had high blood pressure, more than 120 had diabetes, more than 100 suffered from arthritis, and nearly 50 were subject to seizures. More than 80 had cancer, and more than 80 were brain-injured. Among the respondents, there were 175 diagnosed cases of mental illness. That is a lot of care needed, in just one city. And a lot of human misery.

If the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an unfamiliar concept, maybe you will feel inspired to start preparing for next year’s Week in your town. The National Coalition for the Homeless and National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness offer a downloadable 31-page PDF file called “Resolve to Fight Poverty.”

Reactions?

Source: “Looking Up at the Bottom Line,” Amazon.com
Source: “HTH Health Survey Results 2010 for Austin, Texas,” HousetheHomeless.org
Image by jurvetson, used under its Creative Commons license.

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A Book to Help Homeless Veterans

God and Country Under the ElThis is the official publication day for Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage! by Richard R. Troxell, from Plain View Press. Troxell is in Philadelphia, visiting at the University of Pennsylvania, where the School of Social Policy & Practice is hosting a lecture and booksigning today only. If you’re in the area, it’s at 3601 Walnut St., University Sq., and the event is from 2:30 to 4 PM.

Looking Up at the Bottom Line is largely about veterans. How could it not be, when one-third of the people experiencing homelessness are veterans? Among the unhoused population, the military, as a profession, is woefully over-represented. The homeless vets are the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are dead.

Aaron Glantz, an investigative journalist, studied veterans in the state of California and reported in The Bay Citizen on an appalling situation. He says,

An analysis of official death certificates on file at the State Department of Public Health reveals that more than 1,000 California veterans under 35 died between 2005 and 2008. That figure is three times higher than the number of California service members who were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts over the same period.

To make a broad generalization, it looks like the after-effects of having been in the war are killing more service members than the actual war. To make another broad generalization, the government really needs to pay attention to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and take it seriously.

These guys come back from combat and just jump the track, becoming the poster children for self-destructiveness. Some die in motorcycle wrecks and car crashes, others OD or commit suicide in a variety of more direct ways. Glantz says,

Suicides represented approximately one in five deaths of young veterans, the data showed. Many other deaths resulted from risky behaviors that psychologists say are common symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Glantz is the author of three books, including The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans. His recent report is replete with both cold, factual graphs dealing with statistics, and several human-interest stories of individual veterans.

Apparently, the government is not doing a good job on any level, from intervention all the way down to mere record-keeping. Glantz interviewed the director of Veterans for Common Sense, Paul Sullivan, who deplores the attitude shown by the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. He told the reporter,

V.A. and D.O.D. appear to have a policy for veterans called ‘Don’t look, don’t find.’

The veterans who die of compulsive risk-taking behavior or outright suicide are called “stateside casualties,” and we can expect a lot more of them, partly because of the delayed impact peculiar to PTSD. Often, it takes a few years for the full effects of PTSD to develop. People can even seem fine… for a while.

Of course, this is nothing new. A vet named Daniel G. Dumas has gathered together some statistics on Vietnam veterans that are just as disheartening. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give the sources of his information, but makes such claims as, “The suicide rate for Vietnam vets is 86% higher than the national average of peers of the same age group.”

Probably nobody can really know these numbers, but there is no doubt that Vietnam veterans experienced unemployment, divorce, incarceration and homelessness at statistical rates out of proportion to their numbers. The claims about Vietnam vets have been contested, but the more careful analysis now being done of the fates of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans indicates that even the wildest guesses about their Vietnam war counterparts might not be too far off the mark.

Reactions?

Source: “After Service, Veteran Deaths Surge,” The Bay Citizen, 10/16/10
Source: “What is a Vietnam Veteran?,” CAPVeterans.com
Image by Tony the Misfit, used under its Creative Commons license.

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For Veterans: Beds and Stand Downs

Homeless Vet at Ferry Building Farmer's Market

Out of all Americans currently experiencing homelessness, some say that one in four is a veteran. Richard R. Troxell says it’s more like one in three, going by the figures gleaned by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, namely, 28-33%. And, out of that number, more than half are black or Hispanic. So, on top of being a general societal problem, it’s also a race issue.

Despite the best efforts of those who want to help house the homeless, these statistics are rather difficult to keep track of. Many homeless people have learned from hard experience that it’s a good idea to steer clear of any official types, no matter how benign they appear. Some of these folks probably don’t even know themselves who or where they are.

This week, some homeless veterans are getting help, as journalist Melissa Murphy reports from the ninth annual Veterans Stand Down in Dixon, California. The three-day North Bay Stand Down is a yearly event that does its best to provide vets with medical and legal help, along with jackets, underwear, sleeping bags, hygiene kits, boots, and other tangible goods.

The clothing and equipment are either government surplus or bought with grant money. Personnel from Health and Social Services are present, as well as the representatives from Employment Development. Substance-abuse counselors and legal aid people are also available to provide help. A valid ID is always a handy thing to have, and the Department of Motor Vehicles is on hand to facilitate that.

Volunteers from Travis Air Force base set up tents to house the visitors and the various activities. Even live entertainment by the Timebandits is part of the package, along with showers and hot meals.

The organizers expect attendance from the 250 individuals who have registered, with probably another hundred arriving unannounced. Most participants are bused in from the five surrounding counties, and most are in their late forties or early fifties. Murphy interviewed Patrick Stasio, executive director of the Stand Down board, who said,

They come home and there is no wind down time for them. They’re physically here, but their mind is still in the combat area. It’s hard for them to adjust. They’re not the same person when they come home.

Back in August, Aaron Glantz of the New American Media wrote about another California Stand Down, this one in Pleasanton, on the grounds of the Alameda County Fair. Glantz has published two books on the Iraq war, and has collaborated with veterans on the book titled Winter soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. The Pleasanton event drew more than 400 Americans who needed help to turn their lives around, including a break from the legal system. Glantz wrote,

A group of veterans stayed in camouflage canvas tents, met with employment counselors and even made their case to superior court judges, who prescribed modest penalties in exchange for dropping charges related to failed appearances on old warrants. Such warrants often started as unpaid traffic tickets, but the charges escalated as they were ignored.

The reporter talked with a former burn-unit medic who had worked extensively with Vietnam veterans. After a prison term, he hooked up with the Homeless Veteran Rehabilitation Program, which he credits with saving his life. This man had just had his resumé typed, which was stored on a flash drive and tied around his neck on a string for safekeeping.

There are about 400 “transitional housing beds” available in California, which has an estimated 12,000 homeless veterans. That’s about 30 in need, for every one existing accommodation.

Earlier this month, Eric K. Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, announced nearly $42 million in government grant money, which is supposed to supply additional space. According to the press release,

The $41.9 million is broken into two categories. About $26.9 million will help renovate, rehabilitate or acquire space for 1,352 transitional housing beds. A second group of awards, valued at $15 million, will immediately fund 1,216 beds at existing transitional housing for homeless Veterans this year.

About half of all veterans on the streets had served during the Vietnam era, a particularly damaging war in terms of long-term psychological effects on its participants. When idealistic young people enlist, hoping to serve their country, they’re thinking a three- or four-year hitch. Some end up staying in for a full 20, but very, very few of our youth sign up expecting that the consequences of their stretch in the military will be lifelong, consigning them to wandering, hunger, and neglect.

And maybe it doesn’t have to be forever. It’s wonderful that caring people put together the Veterans Stand Down, but no matter how wonderful, it’s only a bandaid on a gaping societal wound. Richard R. Troxell believes the Universal Living Wage could fix that. Here’s looking forward to the day when there is no longer any need for the Veterans Stand Down.

Source: “Dixon ‘Stand Down’ draws homeless veterans in need,” Daily Democrat Online, 10/13/10
Source: “Standing Up for Homeless Vets at ‘Stand Downs’,” New American Media, 08/18/10
Source: “Secretary Shinseki Announces $41.9 Million to Help the Homeless,” Dept. of Government Affairs, 10/01/10
Image by yummyporky (Vera Yu and David Li), used under its Creative Commons license.