Updated: Apr 6
Veterans Day is a day reserved for respecting military veterans who honorably completed their duty to our country. After their service, many veterans go on to live fulfilling service-driven lives.
But for nearly fifty thousand veterans in America, November 11th is painful, cold, and unforgiving.
This year, I urge my neighbors to remember the service of those who once protected our land but now need our protection: America's unhoused veterans.
In 2020, 37,252 veterans were experiencing homelessness in the United States. That means veterans make up about 10% of the country's entire unhoused population. While not every veteran is susceptible to becoming unhoused, roughly 1 in 5 are.
There are lots of reasons a service member may become unhoused after separating from the military. Through my work, I’ve observed some parallels and some contrasts between military service and the unhoused experience.
In combat, all things go through a service member’s mind except fear, because there is no time for it. This is true when veterans are experiencing homelessness as well. Survival is necessary.
Veterans & the importance of belonging
When serving in the military, however, veterans belonged to a unit; a group of fellow Americans whose goals aligned with a single purpose: freedom for all. Together they fought, fellowshipped, and cultivated a sense of family.
After service, though, that sense of belonging can diminish if they aren’t able to find that connectedness within their civilian communities, jobs, or even their own families. For many veterans experiencing homelessness, returning home is often more figurative than literal.
After surviving trauma, living a highly disciplined life, and being wholly led by a commanding officer, veterans can feel like they lose their sense of self. While serving, the “one-team-one-fight” analogy is useful. But in the civilian world, the individual veteran is often alone, sans team, and is expected to advocate for themselves.
Regardless of your opinion on American wars abroad, we can all agree that the individuals who sign up to serve our country deserve our respect and support. Military service requires years of physical, mental, and emotional dedication to a cause greater than yourself, and it can take even more time and effort post-service for veterans to reintegrate into society after being exposed to war zones.
Without exception, every unhoused person deserves support— the support of a community that wants them to thrive and belong.
When you're driving by an individual standing at the busy intersection, holding a wilted cardboard sign that reads "Help a Hungry Vet," do you stop? Do you reach into your wallet looking for a dollar to give? Do you purchase them a meal? Do you pull over to have a conversation with them, inquiring about their current circumstance?
Sadly, many people look away, hoping to avoid eye contact with the poor soul. Unfortunately, this is the reality for so many unhoused veterans in America. They are ignored and ostracized, even though most of them honorably served our country.
We can end veteran homelessness, together
It will take everyone, everywhere to end veteran homelessness. How will we do it? The short-term answer is simple, by providing secure, stable, and supportive housing.
Personal safety is a fundamental human right, after all. Except solely housing unhoused veterans won’t eliminate other issues they’re facing. All unhoused veterans deserve access to comprehensive physical and mental health care that is readily available and effective.
Companies like Caliber Home Loans are helping prevent and eliminate homelessness within veterans' communities all over the country. They have taken a direct approach by financially aiding and empowering employees to volunteer and assist nonprofits’ efforts to end veteran homelessness.
You can honor unhoused veterans by supporting organizations that provide for unhoused veterans like the Bautista Project Inc and Veterans Community Project. You can donate, volunteer, and bring awareness to their causes.
“Never leave a fallen comrade” is a military oath that pledges to never leave your battle buddy behind, even when they’re down. This year let’s truly honor our veterans with more than words; an act of gratitude is the thanks they deserve. During Veterans Day weekend, commit yourself to supporting some of our nation’s most vulnerable heroes—veterans experiencing homelessness.
Join us in serving our homeless veterans.