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From the Barracks to the Homeless Shelter

Homelessness Among Vets Persists

New America Media, News Report, Aaron Glantz Posted: Nov 11, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO Fifty-four-year-old David Harness carries a red, white and blue Department of Veterans Affairs identification card around his neck. His face weathered, his mustache speckled with grey, he looks past the reporter standing in front of him and off into the street.

Tonight Im on the street because I dont have a place to stay, he says.

Harness has been homeless for much of the last two decades. When he first got out of the Navy in the late 70s, he found work at San Franciscos Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, repairing a host of war vessels and commercial ships that came in for repair.

Since the shipyard shut down in 1994, Harness has hardly had any work.

Its hard for veterans because if you dont have a place to clean up, take a shower, do what you got to do, how you gonna get a job? he asks.

Harness is not the only veteran in this difficult situation. A new study released Tuesday by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that approximately 131,000 veterans were homeless at some point in 2008. One out four homeless people, and one out of three homeless men, is a veteran.

According to the report, veterans were more than twice as likely to be homeless as those who never served in the military. And while most of the veterans sleeping on the street had fought in earlier wars, a growing number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans reported receiving homeless services from the VA.

Black veterans are largely over-represented. Despite making up only 10 percent of the veteran population, they make up 45 percent of the homeless veterans population.

The number of homeless veterans is shocking, according to Steve Berg, the alliances vice president.

Our report shows that the problems that weve had for 20 years have not been solved, says Berg.

If nothing is done, Berg says he expects the number of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to rise in the future. Thats because hundreds of thousands of veterans of current wars are coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and other mental injuries that if left untreated can create a downward spiral that may take years to fully realize.

We have a lot of work to do if were going to prevent the problems of the previous generation from repeating themselves, he says.

There was some good news in the report, however. The alliance reported that the number of homeless veterans had actually dropped since 2007 from 195,000 to 131,000 in 2008.

That drop was primarily attributed to the governments early intervention to help veterans before they became homeless by handing out transitional housing assistance, emergency rent payments, and facilitating rapid re-housing.

The report comes one day after Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told reporters in Washington that, President Obama and I are personally committed to ending homelessness among veterans in the next five years.

In addition to homeless services, the administrations plan includes preventive measures like planning for incarcerated veterans re-entering society, supportive services for low-income veterans and their families and a national referral center to link veterans to local service providers.

Our plan enlarges the scope of the VAs efforts to combat homelessness, said Shinseki. In the past, the VA focused largely on getting homeless veterans off the streets. Our five-year plan aims also at preventing them from ever ending up homeless.

On Monday, Berg of the National Alliance to End Homeless declared that he was cautiously optimistic about Shinsekis proposals.

On the streets of San Francisco, Harness, the Navy veteran, offers a reality check to policymakers in Washington.

Im seeing a lot of young people on the street who are 24 or 25 and they look like theyre really not taking care of themselves, he says.

They shouldnt wait for help from the government, he says, because that may never come.

My advice to them is to keep doing what you know best, he says. Just do what you can.

Related Articles:

Over 2,200 Vets Died for Lack of Health Insurance in 2008

Duplicate and Fraudulent Filings Delay Payments to Filipino WWII Vets

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