War is hell, but coming home can be pretty rough, too.
Among the tragic consequences of the War on Terror is the huge problem of homeless veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates some 50,000 vets sleep on the streets on any given night. Nearly 500, 000 former military personnel will be homeless at some point in 2016, more and more of them women.
Los Angeles had upwards of 4,300 homeless vets in 2015. But the city has undertaken an ambitious effort to create housing for those who served and sacrificed to defend us. LA has partnered with the non-profit Step Up to convert old motels into housing for up to 500 homeless veterans, more than doubling the space the city currently provides.
Step Up has a track record of success of re-purposing old motels and other residential buildings as supportive housing for the general homeless population. This is the group’s first veteran-focused rehab initiative. The first units should be available by January 2017.
Veterans are 50% more likely than the general population to end up homeless. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of marketable job skills. Many of the young people who were swept into the military at the height of the War on Terror were not especially employable before they volunteered, due to limited educational achievement and other issues. Their time in the service often did not change that reality. As a result, 1.5 million vets are considered at risk for homelessness because they live in poverty and pay more than 50% of their income in rent.
The Step Up facilities will provide services to help the resident veterans get help with issues that keep vets from landing and holding a job, including work skills, substance abuse, service-related disabilities and social isolation. (Marriage rates are low and divorce rates high among vets.)
The Step Up partnership is just one aspect of LA’s on-going effort to reduce homelessness, which also includes providing incentives to landlords (including rent guarantees) to make rental units available to homeless vets and spending $138 million on building housing for vets and others in need.
The effort seems to be paying off. While overall homelessness is up slightly in Los Angeles, the number of vets on the street has dropped by 1,300 since the city began to focus on the issue.
I applaud the Los Angeles initiative and hope we’ll see similar action across the country. We owe such a debt to our veterans – especially those from the War on Terror. They weren’t drafted. None of them had to join up. But when America was attacked, they raised their hand and said, “I’ll go.” Think of it: We fought two wars that dragged on for a decade with an all-volunteer military.
That debt has come due, and we need to pay in full, with interest.