BY JOE EASTMAN, US Navy (Ret.) Dir. of Veterans Services Broad Street Ministry/ Last spring, Philadelphia City Council, spearheaded by Councilmen Bill Greenlee and Mark Squilla, honored the military veterans of Philadelphia by declaring November as Philadelphia Homeless Veterans Remembrance Month, thus making Philadelphia the first and only city in the United States to set aside a period of time to remember and reflect upon the plight of our homeless military veterans. They continue to walk the streets of Philadelphia every day searching for food, shelter and the other basic necessities of life the vast majority of us take for granted.
I am often asked what causes once-proud men and women to end up on the street, many after having very successful careers in the military and other areas of life. I can only tell you what the experts tell me. The causes are many: mental illness, alcohol and other substance abuse, difficulties reintegrating into society, a bad economy, a lack of jobs. Many also suffer from post-traumatic stress and other mental disorders which leave these veterans at greater risk of becoming homeless and often make them twice as likely as the average American to remain chronically homeless for greater periods of time.
I have heard on any given night in Philadelphia there may be as many as 350 veterans on the street or in a shelter. I have no idea what the true number is because, in the organization I am involved with, 60% of the veterans I service each month are self-identifying for the first time as being homeless. The number is fluid.
During this month, it is vitally important to remember these countless men and women who have served this great country with honor and selflessness. We must also remember many of these same men and women willingly and knowingly risked their lives to protect the many freedoms we all cherish only to come home to a life of poverty and homeless. These heroes deserve better and it is the duty of each of us to see that they get it.
To that end, we must also say thanks to the many dedicated organizations in Philadelphia who work tirelessly to see that our less fortunate veterans have the tools, resources and support systems necessary to enable them to get well and return to the society that owes them so much. Organizations such as Project HOME, The Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House, The Veterans Group, Impact Services and Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center, to name just a few. Without these organizations and their wonderful men and women, I often wonder how much worse the plight of our veterans might very well be.
Unfortunately, many of these homeless veterans remain invisible and lack a voice. I would ask those of you who read this to become an advocate for our homeless veterans and become their voice. Use every bully pulpit at your disposal to remind every elected official you come across, be it at the state, federal or local level, that there are heroes walking the streets of Philadelphia every day without a place to live or enough food to eat. This is a national scandal and it must be eliminated.
As we approach this Veterans Day, I would also ask that each of you who read this to make plans to visit one of the veteran service providers I mentioned and volunteer some time. You will walk away from that organization a different person. I guarantee that to you.
Happy Veterans Day to all who served. Thank you for your service.