On any given night, nearly 40,000 United States veterans have no place to call home. Another 1.4 million are on the verge of homelessness, and the number of young homeless vets is on the rise. One in five homeless males are veterans.
Any man or woman who has served in this country’s military deserves – at the very least – a roof over their head, and yet tens of thousands of Americans who worked and fought to protect our freedom are forced to wander the streets in search of nightly shelter from the elements.
Some have jobs but can’t afford an apartment, some are living on handouts, many are in need of psychiatric care and/or substance abuse treatment, and many are dealing with serious health issues.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to effectively meet the challenge of housing our homeless vets, so the only real help these people can count on often comes from locally-based, nonprofit programs that work in partnership with the VA.
One such program in Los Angeles, California has been successful in providing housing for hundreds of homeless veterans and the key to its success is based on a novel idea: converting abandoned motels into apartment buildings for vets.
From True Activist:
“When the infrastructure of [Los Angeles] began to change, motels that were once constantly busy turned into financial black holes that were no longer viable. As a result, many of these broken down motels were closed and abandoned, becoming useless until Step Up, a group whose focus is mental illness and inherently works with homeless veterans, developed a creative way to make these motels work for them.”
Since the program was launched, hundreds of hotel rooms have been renovated and made available to homeless veterans. One of the big advantages of the concept is the fact that so many units can be made available so quickly – and at a cost much lower than that of building new housing.
Step Up’s first project involved the renovation of 400 units. “New permanent supportive housing can take four or five years, and produce 30, 40, or 50 units at a time. Four hundred is exciting,” said Tod Lipka, president of Step Up.
The local community was responsible for launching the Step Up program, but the government does play an important role:
“As far as the existing programs that helped make this possible, many thanks go towards vouchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which allows homeless veterans placed into new facilities to live there for up to 15 years at no cost to them and receive help from supportive services.”
Since 2014, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced he would make housing for the city’s homeless veterans a priority, more than 1,500 residences have been provided. However, there are still around 2,500 homeless vets on the streets of L.A., and programs like Step Up may prove to be the fastest, most cost-effective solution to finally solving that city’s homeless vet crisis.
Although the situation in LA may be somewhat unique in terms of having so many derelict motels available for refurbishment, the same concept can undoubtedly be applied elsewhere. There are nearly 20 million vacant or abandoned homes in the United States – six times the amount of people currently living on the streets.
We have the resources to solve the problem, but waiting for the government to do something about it is obviously not going to work. We must take on the responsibility ourselves – by volunteering your time towards helping homeless veterans, you are helping those American men and women who deserve it most.
To find out how you can get involved, visit the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website.