Viewpoint: Stand Down Stands Up For Our Veterans By JAMES SENEY
With his muscular build and short hair, he is perhaps one of the last people anyone would expect to be homeless.
But in the next month, the 22-year-old veteran may lose his apartment and join the ranks of New England’s homeless people.
And he is not alone. One year ago, the former Army private first class was a proud member of Operation Enduring Freedom, completing a one-year deployment in Afghanistan.
Now he wonders if he’ll get a job or, one year from now, where he will live.
Next week in Springfield, the Western Massachusetts Stand Down will be held to help as many of the estimated 3,000 homeless veterans in our region and to prevent veterans believed to be at risk of homelessness from being without a place to live.
The event, held at the Greek Cultural Center in the North End, represents a close partnership with many organizations, including strong leadership from Gumersindo Gomez from the Western Mass Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center, the city of Springfield, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, and our area’s municipal veteran services officers.
The 2012 Stand Down will take place Friday, Sept. 28, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. It provides veterans with a centralized, one-stop approach to receiving resources on the spot, bringing together VA programs and services; community health care providers, including health prevention and wellness resources; counseling services; legal aid; the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles; the Social Security Administration; and many other services, including food, clothing and haircuts.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the current economic downturn and the downsizing of the armed forces are the biggest risk factors for newly demobilized service members, resulting in postwar unemployment, missed rent payments and homelessness. Many, like the 22 year-old former soldier, sleep in their cars, move in for a while with relatives or friends, camp out in the woods, or find a cheap motel room and never come to the attention of state or local authorities. And the new picture of veteran homelessness also includes female veterans with children. Nearly all are unemployed. They want to work but cannot find jobs or at least steady work. Or they have work but cannot find housing they can afford so they end up couch surfing – the practice of temporarily living with a stranger – free of charge.
Most never dreamed they would find themselves in such straits. And their troubles are just starting as fall begins and cold weather will quickly set in. Stand Down, while focused on those veterans at greatest risk of needing services, is also intended for all veterans, including active-duty military members, and their families.
With a tough economy and our nation still in recession, every veteran can benefit from the information and resources shared at Stand Down. Three-and-a-half years ago, an estimated 107,000 veterans were homeless in our nation. The number is now estimated to be less than 60,000 but the VA and our community partners cannot be satisfied until every Veteran who has fought for America has a home in America.
If we are to end the travesty of veteran homelessness, we need a total team approach. Every citizen has a role to play. At a minimum, we’d ask for your help in identifying and referring veterans in need. Every community member can make a difference in reaching out to our veterans. The hardship of homelessness is compounded by the truth that our homeless veterans had once put their lives on the line to serve our country in wars past and present. They deserve the very best support network possible. When we ask our men and women to fight and sacrifice for us in defense of our nation, we make a promise that we will give them the support they need when they come home. The Stand Down offers one way to fulfill that promise. If you know a veteran in need, tell them about Stand Down.
James Seney is the program manager for Community Reintegration Services for the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System.
Click here for more info concerning upcoming Stand Downs.