With Thanksgiving and other holidays right around the corner, now is the time that food banks and shelters see a huge amount of activity, both in terms of those in need and those who give. As we have been following up with Veterans and their needs, we were surprised to read how many Veterans are homeless. Although the percentage of homeless vets has greatly declined in the past few years (by almost 20,000 people, nearly 25%), there are still an estimated 57,000 Veterans that make up more than 12% of our homeless adult population. In Arizona, our homeless Veteran population actually increased by nearly 11% between 2012 and 2013. Additionally, there are some organizations, such as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, that estimate that 1.4 million Veterans are “at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.”

Here’s the good news: There has been a strong, steady decline in the number of homeless Veterans every year since 2009. This is due in large part to an initiative by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to End Veteran Homelessness by the end of 2015. We can also identify many of the causes of homelessness, from costly housing to difficulty in finding employment and mental health problems such as PTSD and TBI. Veterans need to have access to physical and mental healthcare, substance abuse treatment, and job training and placement, and we, as a community, are starting to make appropriate strides by addressing the problems at the VA hospital as well as implementing programs such as Veterans Courts. But we can do more.

The most successful programs are those where veterans work alongside homeless and struggling veterans to provide a support system founded in the community. “Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves,” notes the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. The VA has also set up a 24-hour call center at 877-4AID-VET to provide assistance to these individuals. In the Phoenix area, organizations like the Madison Street Veterans Association and its MANA house provide transitional living as well as numerous peer resources, including job training and a community garden, to help Veterans get back on their feet. Learn more about community programs for veterans.

We think ending Veteran homelessness by 2015 is a realistic goal, and we want to be a part of it! These organizations need our support and encouragement, so let’s work together with them to help these men and women be successful on their journey through life.