In an address he gave on April 9 of this year, President Obama assured American soldiers that, "When you come home to America, America will be there for you." Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki affirmed the President's promise when he vowed to end veterans homelessness in five years.
It's a goal as noble as the men and women it honors; and one that should be taken very, very seriously.
The latest numbers show that 131,000 United States veterans will be homeless tonight. This number is approximately one-fifth of the entire homeless population and represents veterans who served in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A growing number of these veterans are women, many with families. There is great concern that because of the high injury rate in the current conflicts, veterans of our current conflicts will be extremely vulnerable to homelessness in the future (as such disabilities are often linked with homelessness).
The crisis is here -- and in order to keep our promise to our returning soldiers, we must act swiftly.
Luckily, the tools to end veterans homelessness are at our disposal -- now, it is our responsibility to make sure that we utilize these tools with the urgency befitting this preventable tragedy:
- Congress has committed to provide housing and resources to 20,000 of the poorest and most disabled homeless veterans -- let's make sure that funding is distributed quickly and appropriately.
- Existing permanent supportive housing programs have proven to successfully house veterans. Let's commit to expanding the availability of such units, which link veterans to the medical and behavioral health services necessary to receive the care they need.
- Congress continues to debate a multitude of proposals aimed at ending veterans homelessness. Let's make sure that Congress approves what we know works for our country's veterans: homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing, and thorough outreach to those most vulnerable.
- The VA stands at the helm of this fight as the agency closest to returning veterans and most capable of offering assistance. Let's make sure that Congress charges them with the clear responsibility -- and all the necessary tools -- to get the job done.
Our hearts are in the right places -- it's time for our hands to follow.
President Obama said, "...and through their service, they are living out the ideals that stir something deep within the American character -- honor, sacrifice, and commitment to a higher purpose and to one another."
Now it is our turn to uphold that American character for those who have shouldered it here and abroad.
Let's not let them down.
Follow Nan Roman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/naehomelessness