There is a difference between supporting our enlisted service people when they go off to do their job and actually supporting them when they make it out. Unfortunately, we're not so good at the latter ... not by a long shot.
How are you?
Not complaining, sir.
Oh my gosh, you look better than last year.
If I could walk, I'd be in good shape, you know?
Right, but your hands and your leg were all really bad last year.
Yeah I was really messed up. Good to see you again. How you been doing?
The VA start helping you?
Yeah, well, I got that thing straightened out now.
My records were all lost, and I said, "My gosh, my records stand out like an elephant in a desert plain, you know?" And they said, "No, we got to have the records, so 9 years, I had to hustle, you know? And after a while I just almost couldn't make it no more.
These veterans have gone somewhere to war, and been honorably discharged, and they're discharged to nothing, to nothing, to the streets. Many of them end up homeless. We spent all this money on recruitment, the millions on ads to get people to join up, the millions and billions to make sure they're well-equipped when they're fighting a war, and then they come home and there's no money to give them an apartment and some decent opportunities to work? Why are we allowing that to happen?
How long have you been out on the streets?
About nine and a half years, give or take.
We need to talk to the homeless veterans on the street. We need to understand what happens to someone who comes home from war. What is the gestation period from the time that you land to the time to that you land on the street. So, this is another example of why it's so important to involve grass roots advocacy. That's why it's so important to involve people's voices in the first person, because you really do get the story, you understand it at a much deeper, more personal level.
How long you been out on the streets?
I'd say, off and on, for about ten years.
Were you in the military?
Yes, I was.
'79 to '84.
Okay. And your discharge?
Any mental health issue being treated?
No, but I'm losing my mind out here slowly, I'm pretty sure.
We completely change the orientation of the response. The basic idea was, "Well, we'll bring together a section eight voucher, a voucher that HUD can provide with services that the Veterans Administration can provide. We'll put them together and we'll be able to help get veterans off the street. We had more than 20,000 of these vouchers available. Fewer than 5,000 were actually in use. And today, we have over 25,000 of these vouchers in use. Just this past year, veteran's homelessness came down by 12 percent, real progress, and it's as a result of really reorienting our response at the federal level, and at the local level, taking the bureaucracy and saying, "Not what do we need in the bureaucracy, but what do they need."
HUD and the Veterans Administration put the services together and the vouchers together, and there's a program to end homelessness for vets. So, it can happen on a large scale, you just need to get somebody's attention, and you need the leadership and then all the way down the line. It's possible.