“President Obama and I are personally committed to ending homelessness among Veterans within the next five years.”
Eric K. Shinseki, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Secretary Shinseki, a retired four-star general, surely is serious about his goals. But the clock is ticking on his November 3, 2009, declaration that he and President Obama would end the stigmatic problem of homeless veterans in five short years.
The reality is it won’t happen.
Over the last couple of years, the volume of homeless veterans has ticked down a couple of percentage points. So has the unemployment rate for veterans. And that’s good news, for sure.
But on any given day, some 60,000 U.S. military service veterans are homeless.
For Greater Charleston, the estimate is 1,500.
Of all the homeless people roaming the streets of America, one in seven is a veteran. Homeless female veterans, many with children, reflect a disturbing and growing trend in this complex problem that simply defies a summary solution.
Homelessness is a problem we Americans tend to sweep under the proverbial rug, or we look the other way, or we rationalize. But a homeless veteran stirs our conscience — and our souls. This is America, and it’s hard to rationalize or accept that someone who served our country can fall through the cracks of our social and economic operation into homelessness.
In Greater Charleston, Crisis Ministries and the Star Gospel Mission provide a backbone of basic assistance. And veterans are assisted by a variety of other ad hoc care-giving groups. But more is needed, for sure. And the Veterans Administration and all the federal, state and local government agencies working on veterans services need all the help they can get.
One promising new initiative in North Charleston is Heroes’ Haven. Over the last two years, it has evolved from a copycatting idea to an eager and dutiful board working with high hopes and low finances.
The concept is a program that puts the finishing touch on homeless veterans’ transition — from the uncertainties of the streets to the certainty of home ownership.
My friend Ed Astle, a retired Vietnam-era Navy chief petty officer, chairs the Heroes Haven board.
Transitional housing services typically include helping veterans resolve the underlying reasons for their homelessness. Astle and his board want to create an affordable housing option that would move the goal from mere transition to home ownership.
“The transition for a homeless veteran is to work through the demons and get to personal stability,” Astle notes. “But with a Heroes’ Haven program, the ending can be home ownership.We’re talking about a goal — and a great motivator.”
It’s an idea patterned after the acclaimed Solider On program in Leeds, Mass.
Astle, a second term North Charleston city councilman, and his colleagues have convinced Charleston County School Board Chair Cindy Bohn Coats to serve as an unpaid administrator. They have a concept and loads of desire and they’re clearly in need of the traction of financial donations to cover operational expenses and refined business plans.
The Heroes’ Haven board meets regularly — and quietly. Last week, eschewing any press notices, they invited 80 people to a “roll-out” at North Charleston City Hall. Twenty showed up to hear the simple story of pressing needs and the work of a genuinely concerned group to address those needs.
It was a soft sell for a firm goal. Astle described his board as fully devoted to homeless veterans — and looking for ideas on raising money and public awareness. Conceptual planning, he noted, is running well ahead of the bureaucracy.
The board has some prospects for property donations, but its long-pending application for Internal Revenue certification as a charitable organization is slowing down fund raising. State certification was achieved within a few weeks of application.
We’re reminded that it takes a long time to do good in America.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey was at the “roll-out” and offered his support — and an idea that Greater Charleston ought to be thinking about a national cemetery.
Meanwhile, too many veterans roam the streets, hustling for shelter and often for food.
Surely, Ed Astle and his board realize it will be a long haul of hard work to make Heroes’ Haven or anything like it a reality.
Secretary Shinseki understands by now that ending homelessness among veterans is a grueling process.
Chief Astle and Gen. Shinkesi ought to meet one day soon and compare notes. One has a big idea, the other a big goal. They could probably find ways to help each other.
Ron Brinson, a North Charleston City Councilman, is a former associate editor of this newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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