“There but by the grace of God, go I.” I’m sure you’ve heard that admonition before. You may have even said it a time or two. If you tend towards the dramatic, you may have emphasized the ‘there!’ and then punctuated the alliterated g’s of Grace, God, and Go. This statement is often times accompanied by such phrases as “wretched thing” “poor creature” and “bless her heart”. The more tender-hearted (or menopausal) of us sometimes wonder who they might once have belonged to, or if they have a mother who prays for them every night. The more practical ones of us question aloud if those being observed might not be able to get a job – any job – rather than pan-handling. Despite scriptural requirements (any religion’s scriptures) to give them money when asked, we refrain, for fear that the money will be used for booze rather than food.
We speak, of course, of the homeless. “The Homeless.” Like the Irish-Americans, the Disabled, or the Aristocracy, ‘the Homeless’ has become a title, not defining, but definitely labeling one section of society.
Once labeled, we can put thoughts of them aside, for we have dealt with them in a logical sense. They are not someone else’s son or daughter, they are not fellow soldiers tortured beyond sanity by the things they have experienced, they are not actually “us”, they are “them” – the homeless.
I live in a small southern town in the US. It has been quietly affluent, nurtured by phosphate mines, cattle ranching, and citrus. Last week, there were 169 homes that were going through foreclosure. These are tough economic times: 169 soon-to-be homeless families.
During the Great Depression, men would wander from town to town, seeking food, jobs if they could find them, and a sense of who they used to be, before the Crash. They were homeless. My mom told me that her mother would hand out food to anyone who came to the door, but her dad used to invite them in and sit them with the family at the dinner table. My grandfather was a banker before the Crash, and learned how to cobble shoes after it.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 26 out of every 100 homeless men and women are veterans. Thirty three out of every 100 homeless men are veterans. 89 percent of them received honorable discharges. Almost half of them are aged 45 or older.
What happened to them? How did they get to be in this condition? There are four generally accepted risk factors of homeless veterans. The first is combat-related stress. The second is the same for men and women – 75% of all homeless veterans at one time suffered from sexual trauma (23% of which occurred while they were in the military). Half of them suffer from substance and/or alcohol dependency. One third of them suffer from mental illness.
Women veterans become homeless four times as often as non-veteran women. Four times.
Well, what can be done for these? There are many services available to help our homeless veterans – 500 Veterans Affairs-run homeless shelters, 300 of which accept women veterans. There are 15 VA-run homeless shelters which accept only women or have facilities for women separate from men (an important environmental situation for those suffering from sexual trauma). There are no homeless shelters available for women veterans with children. The House of Representatives has just passed the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Act of 2009 (HR 1171) which, for about $10 million dollars annually over the next five years, will help provide job training, counseling and shelters. You can donate money, food, clothing, time, and compassion to any of the shelters and organizations which have been established for our homeless veterans. Do a Google search and pick one a month. Support the troops while they are still in the service, especially those stationed in combat zones. When they return to the states, visit with them, help them, listen to them; don’t let them slip into that realm of “the homeless.” They fought for you; it’s time for you to fight for them. Because, quite honestly, there but by the grace of God. . .