County Tackles Veteran Homelessness by Reallocating Existing Resources
If any category of homeless person breaks through the general public’s callousness to tug at the heartstrings, it’s usually the homeless veteran.
Perhaps it’s a matter of patriotism, or perhaps it’s a matter of context. While people may think of other unhoused people as suffering the consequences of their actions, unhoused veterans garner more sympathy because we think we know or can imagine a critical part of their story.
While an unhoused civilian may be written off as an immoral addict with little evidence and even less curiosity, when it’s a homeless veteran, even one who is known to be struggling with substance abuse, it’s easier for many of us to consider the “why” behind the behavior.
On some level, we all recognize the horrors that many military members go through in service of a country that chews them up, spits them out, and too often leaves them to live the rest of their lives on the streets. All these concepts and more are tied up in the term “veteran.” That may be why it’s easier to get people to agree that no veteran should be homeless well before they agree that no person should be homeless, period.
That’s what we are seeing play out in real time in San Diego County.
Veteran Homelessness is on the Decline Nationally
Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has shown a steady decline in veteran homelessness rates since 2010.
In the ten-year period from 2010 to 2020, veteran homelessness had decreased by more than half, at about 55 percent. From 2020 to 2022, concerted efforts to drop that number even more, led to a swift 11% drop in just two years. That 11% dip was the most significant drop in the prior five years.
New federal resources have been rolled out recently that bring the end in sight for many unhoused veterans in cities and counties nationwide.
Task Force Assembles to End Veteran Homelessness Locally
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, himself a veteran, says that the county’s rate of veteran homelessness has dropped by 30% over the last four years, but he wants to take it all the way down to zero. At last count, about 700 homeless veterans were still identified within San Diego County. That number makes up about 9% of the county’s overall homeless population.
The County is still in the planning phase, which it hopes to have finished by April. In the intervening time, they will be taking input from community groups, government representatives, and people who have experienced homelessness.
If a focus on homeless veterans is what it takes to get people housed, that’s a small victory. But it does feel a bit off to make the county’s goal functional zero- meaning having enough housing for all of the county’s homeless veterans with room to spare while leaving out the vast majority of unhoused people in the area.
But this discrepancy is what reveals the heart of the matter. When the people in power view unhoused people as people who are deserving of housing, as they’re able to with homeless veterans, that is when changes get made and not before.
What Can We Learn From These Initiatives?
The strong push to end veteran homelessness shows that where there’s a will, there’s a way. In a way that’s both inspirational and devastatingly cruel, it shows that the only thing standing between us and ending homelessness for good is the lack of sufficient political will to do so.
We already have all of the resources that we need to end homelessness. We just haven’t made it a priority.
If that sounds impossible to you, imagine sitting down with a friend with money problems. They want you to check their household budget with fresh eyes to see if they can cut out anything, though they’re pretty sure there’s not.
When you get there, you see they’ve been spending reasonably on groceries, gas, and caring for their pets. Then you notice that they’ve fallen way behind on their rent payments because they’ve been putting all of that money and more into a budget category marked “Secret Death Laser (Space).”
When you point out the obvious fact that maybe they shouldn’t be spending $6,000 a month on developing a space laser of death while they’re struggling to make rent (or possibly at all), they get defensive and insist that there’s absolutely no other way things can be done.
This is an all too common scenario in American governmental budgets. We choose to pay astronomical amounts for bloated military and police budgets that do far more harm than good, blow the rest on making the rich and powerful even more rich and powerful, and then swear blind there’s just nothing left for providing basic human rights for the country’s poorest residents.
All it would take is a reallocation away from harming people for corporate interests and toward helping people as any good government should.
Veterans having homes is long past due – and we can’t stop there.
The success of initiatives designed to end veteran homelessness proves that we can do more for everyone. Talk to your representatives to show your support for expanding these programs to support everyone who needs them.
Talk to your community and remind them that unhoused people are, in fact, people too. Unfortunately, they’ve been dehumanized in the minds of many. We must counteract that messaging and reconnect people with their compassion if we ever want to move the needle on homelessness. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, so we have to make the will.