Each year, San Francisco rolls out the red carpet for hundreds of men and women in uniform as part of Fleet Week. However, after the Blue Angels have gone home and the American flags are put away, many veterans in our city are left in critical need of our help and support.
The Human Services Agency of San Francisco reports that 17 percent of homeless individuals in San Francisco are veterans — higher than the national average. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has programs in place to help homeless veterans and veterans at risk of losing their homes, VA can’t end homelessness alone. That’s where community-based agencies and the greater San Francisco community come in: We can help our veteran neighbors in need link up to important resources.
Veterans face unique personal struggles as they transition back into civilian society from their time in service. At the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in San Francisco, we’ve seen an influx of veterans in recent years seeking help to get off the streets. The reasons for veteran homelessness are as widespread and diverse as the veteran population. Some are dealing with the harsh effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Others are fighting an alcohol or drug addiction developed to cope with the emotional backlash of service-related stress and an inability to redefine their normal routine. In fact, 39 percent of homeless veterans in San Francisco cite alcoholism as the cause of their homelessness.
Our goal is to help our returning veterans not only achieve sobriety, but find work, gain housing and develop the skills necessary to lead fulfilling lives. Thanks to the programs in place through the VA, we — along with other community-based service providers and veteran service organizations — can help veterans navigate through the difficult path of emotional and physical rehabilitation and connect them with the tools they need to succeed.
The VA recently unveiled its National Call Center for Homeless Veterans — an easily accessible, one-stop shop for vets to acquire help or information about VA services. The National Call Center aims to target the causes of homelessness among veterans, including unemployment, debt, legal problems, health issues, substance abuse and mental health challenges. The center supports veterans before they lose their housing. This can all be done by simply picking up the phone and calling (877)-4AID-VET.
While the VA has a tremendous program of support to prevent and eliminate homelessness among our veterans, it needs the support of other veterans, their families and friends, community-based service providers, veteran service organizations, employers, the media and the public to raise awareness and increase access to the VA and other resources to make sure every veteran has a home.
Our city as a whole needs to work harder to prevent and eliminate homelessness for all veterans and their families. It’s up to all of us to help. Don’t wait for an occasion like Fleet Week to be reminded of their need for support. Reach out to your veteran neighbors at risk of losing their home or even a homeless military veteran on the street.
They answered this country’s call — now San Francisco can help answer theirs.
Lt. Col. Steve Smith is the divisional commander for the Salvation Army’s Golden State Division.