My stepfather joined the Navy around the time of the Korean War. He enlisted the summer after graduating from high school, serving aboard a minesweeper as a radioman. After four years on the sea, he was honorably discharged and came back to sunny California. He went to Long Beach State on the GI Bill, earned a bachelor’s degree in business and went on to live an interesting and successful life.
Sadly, for many veterans, a story like this is just a dream.
In the United States, there are approximately 40,000 veterans today without a home. Suffering from some combination of psychological trauma, combat injuries or simply returning to challenging economic situations, so many of those brave individuals who proudly serve our country end up on the streets, without the support or stability they need to find a safe, stable place to lay their heads. Despite a supposedly robust infrastructure in place to help those returning, there have been too many cracks in the safety net over the years and not enough emphasis on making sure housing was a top priority for every single veteran in need of help.
Despite all of these systemic failures, this is one instance where we are actually starting to see a change for the good right now. Homelessness among veterans has declined nationally by over 50% since 2010. How has this happened? As it turns out, when the federal government decides to make something a priority through funding and partner with local jurisdictions on long-term housing solutions, we can really make a difference.
A few years back, then First Lady Michelle Obama launched a campaign to end veterans’ homelessness with city and county leaders across the nation. Right here at home, Mayor Sam Liccardo and Supervisor Dave Cortese answered the call, launching All the Way Home, an initiative designed to do whatever it takes to get our veterans housed. With a surge in funding from the Feds for dedicated rental subsidies, key agencies like the city, county and Housing Authority all working in partnership, and a host of hundreds of willing landlords and faith-based organizations opening their doors, All the Way Home has housed 1,602 homeless veterans since its launch four years ago.
More importantly, over the last twelve months, the number of veterans housed locally has exceeded the number of new homeless veterans seeking assistance for the first time. That means we’re showing that it’s possible to have sustained gains each month. And – as long as we keep it up – there really could be an end in sight.
Despite all the bleak forecasts and insurmountable barriers facing our poorest and most vulnerable residents, the success of this work is a reminder of what can be achieved when we band together to accomplish our mission. So, as we honor our veterans this year, sleeping safely in our own beds thanks to their sacrifice, let’s continue to remember that with focus, effort and determination we have it in us to make certain every member of our community can someday be truly welcomed home.
San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Impact Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @rbramson on Twitter.