Here’s a disarming statistic: more than half a million Americans are homeless. And, nearly 200,000 of them sleep on sidewalks, empty lots or under bridges most nights, anywhere they can find a modicum of shelter.
And, says the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), too many of them are veterans who risked their lives for their country, men and women who have served in conflicts going back as far as World War II.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) more than 40,000 of America’s homeless population are veterans. Meanwhile, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says “about 1.4 million other veterans ... are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.”
Bob Carlstrom, president of the association’s advocacy affiliate, AMAC Action, notes that the Veterans Administration does what it can for homeless veterans, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on its resources. He says that AMAC has put a priority on efforts to encourage Congress to pass the Homeless Veteran Coronavirus Response Act.
“The bill does not seek to allocate more money. Instead, it is designed to give the VA an okay to reallocate existing funds to aid homeless vets during this time of crisis. The good news is that the measure has bi-partisan support. It was introduced in the Senate by Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and companion legislation was also introduced in the House by Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL),” according to Carlstrom.
Carlstrom explained that the measure would loosen certain regulations and enable the VA to use existing resources to offer homeless veterans the additional assistance they may need, including transportation, communication devices and services, and basic amenities, like clothing, blankets and hygiene items in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The law would also allow the VA to work with partner organizations to set up shelters on its properties. Finally, the bill ensures that homeless veterans have access to the VA’s telehealth services.
Meanwhile, the proposed legislation has attracted broad based support. The CEO of the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, Kathryn Monet, sent a message exhorting lawmakers to support the bill. “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of veteran homelessness that we were already facing, and we must do more to get our nation’s heroes off the streets. Our legislation takes commonsense steps to facilitate shelters, transitional housing and other services for veterans and their families in the face of public health challenges. We must expand these services as soon as possible.”
AMAC Action is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit advocacy organization created to assist Association of Mature American Citizens members with grassroots participation on Capitol Hill and at the local level through its advocacy programs.