After serving his country, Black led seemingly typical American life — married, a degree in respiratory therapy and working at a local health center. But as Senior Reporter Becky Campbell told readers in last Saturday’s edition, a series of health, personal and financial challenges upended his path, leaving him homeless.
In April as the Johnson City Commission considered its controversial camping ban intended to keep homeless people off the streets, Press Staff Writer Zach Vance met Mark Fulwiler, an Air Force veteran as he hunkered down in the Pavilion at Founders Park. He’d been homeless for nine months and was just trying to get some rest on the chilly day.
We can do better than this.
Far too many former servicemen and women wind up on our streets, and it’s not enough to simply pass ordinances shuffling them elsewhere.
That’s why the Veterans Stand Down, an event organized by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and numerous support agencies, is essential. Since 2013, it has provided both homeless veterans and those at risk with information about substance abuse counseling, housing and legal resources and employment opportunity and training, as well as food, clothing and access to vision and dental services.
The Stand Down offers the leg up many veterans need to change the odds in their favor.
But there’s a larger question facing us: Why do so many veterans become homeless? Why does a nation that prides itself on patriotism, admiration for service personnel and loyalty to veterans allow such a problem to persist?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 40,056 veterans are homeless on any given night. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that about 11 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans. One in five homeless men in are veterans.
Let that sink in. One homeless man in five you see living on the streets served his country.
The majority of homeless people encounter common barriers — lack of affordable housing, livable income and health care access — but the coalition says displaced veterans face special hurdles. Many return with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse without key family and social support networks. Military occupations and training do not necessarily translate to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage in the labor market.
Until we resolve those concerns at the root, veterans will continue to find themselves at risk.
In the meantime, you can do more than merely standing for our National Anthem. The veterans coalition says you can align yourself with others interested in attacking the problem. That may mean participating with or financially supporting local homeless coalitions.
Locally, the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness — known as ARCH — is the lead agency coordinating such programs as the Veterans Stand Down. ARCH accepts gas cards, household goods and furniture, hygiene products, toiletries and financial donations in its quest to support veterans. Volunteers are also needed for data collection, homeless census counts, wellness checks and other tasks.
Visit the organization’s website at http://www.appalachianhomeless.org/ to learn more about how to get involved or call the ARCH office at 423-928-2724.