Mainewhile: No excuse for homeless veterans

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Veterans Day is a time for our nation to collectively pause and honor the men and women who have served our country through the armed forces. Recently, there has been increased attention to the many animals who have served in war as well. I like that we do this. It matters that we do this, and I add my voice to the many. To all our veterans, I offer my sincere thanks. I am humbled by your service.

This year, there was a great deal of conversation around the many, many ways our current administration is failing to observe the day properly. I could join in, I am pretty fed up with the behavior of the president. I mean, rain? Seriously? In truth, however, as maddening as all that may be – I’d like to talk about a more profound and impactful failure: homeless veterans.

I was brought up on the understanding of a social contract. As a citizen, there are certain obligations one is expected to meet: pay your taxes (because roads, schools, and fire departments make life better); pitch in and volunteer; abide the law, and vote.

In return, the government is obligated to provide those services funded through taxes, keep the peace, and guarantee all the rights, protections, and civil liberties as outlined in the Constitution – a governing document secured at great cost to our nation’s first veterans.

These are the basics, and I fall well within this category. I pay my share, do my best, and try to leave things a little better than I found them. The basics. Our veterans, however, have gone beyond.

Regardless of whether a person volunteered or was drafted, served in peace time or saw active combat, veterans have served our nation and all of us who reside within it at a different level of sacrifice and service. Many perished in that service. Many more were forever marked by it. It seems to me that the debt is not erased with their discharge. It seems to me that debt is lifelong. A life offered up in service is forever the obligation of the nation as a whole.

A homeless veteran, therefore, ought to be an impossible contradiction in terms.

Homelessness is widespread, and complicated. It touches families and individuals. It comes in many forms and derives from many causes. I don’t pretend to fully understand its many reasons and nuances. Some of the most radical, and inspiring, attempts to eradicate homelessness have come up against frustrating failures.

However, even where chronic homelessness has proved more difficult to solve than first hoped, programs that work to first and foremost end homelessness by putting people in homes are indeed having a marked effect. The numbers are not the universal solution first imagined, but they are significant. Far, far beyond what critics imagined.

Yes, there often need to be mental health and community health supports. Yes, substance abuse is often a factor. I’ll toss in that job training and financial education would be sound additions to any community program. But with every new trial run, it becomes more and more clear that having a safe, warm home is the foundation to solving those other issues, not the other way around.

So let’s do this.

Obviously, many, many veterans come out of the service and go on to lead rich, productive lives in the private sector. That’s wonderful. Others struggle. In each and every case, we owe support. I imagine a world where every veteran, upon discharge, is offered housing in a wide range of options.

Support might look like a government-backed low- (or no-) interest mortgage on their dream house. For others, support might mean subsidized rent for an apartment, or similar incentives made to family members able to take in and care for a veteran. For others, it might be rent-free living in government-owned buildings, such as decommissioned military bases transformed into supportive living communities, or reserved spaces within the malls currently being renovated into housing units. I’m sure there are options I’ve not thought of, too.

We are a nation of vast resources. It is disgraceful, frankly, that any of our citizens are without a safe, warm home. It is unconscionable that our veterans are in that group. This year, while we pause to honor their service, let us also dedicate ourselves to ensuring a secure future for our veterans, one that truly honors the debt we collectively owe.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at heather@heatherdmartin.com.

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