Organizing Theory & Artistry

Update: Homeless Veteran Encounter

"Vet. Downtown Boston." Photo © 2011 J. Ronald Lee. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

On Monday, I posted my suggestions for veteran advocacy and yesterday, I ended up needing the information!  The result was not exactly what I had hoped.

As we were driving to pick up glasses for my daughter, we passed what appeared to be a homeless veteran standing on a street corner with a big signboard reading:

COMBAT VETERAN

ALWAYS FAITHFUL

I didn’t feel comfortable stopping to chat with the person just then but when I arrived at my destination a few minutes later, I called the VA homelessness hotline number to report his presence and location and request assistance.

It turns out the hotline number only helps if you know personal information on the veteran in question.  They register the person in their system and then a VA social worker in their area calls them back within 24 hours.

Since I didn’t know any personal information on my possible veteran, the hotline number gave me the number for a local VA office.  I called and left a message, although the introductory voicemail indicated clearly that this social worker was inundated with work, including more pressing issues like suicide prevention.

While everyone did their jobs as required, it seemed a little dispiriting that in order to get someone off the street, the homeless person had to be someplace already where they could have access to a phone and be available to be contacted at that same spot for the next 24 hours.  I imagine this could be quite a challenge for a homeless person.   There is no way a system like that will end veteran homelessness by 2015.

I was bummed that I couldn’t do more to help the veteran I saw so I wrote a letter explaining my experience and my suggestions for improving the system and sent it to the VA and my Congressional representatives. Given all the hot-button fiscal cliff legislation in play at the moment, addressing veteran homelessness will not be a high priority item for anyone . . . but you never know.

I would still encourage people to call the VA hotline if they spot a homeless veteran.  If nothing else, it will help the system to change to better respond to those who need the help.  Sometimes we need to give money, sometimes we need to give time and sometimes we need to be the voice for those who need to be heard.

If you have any suggestions for better methods to help homeless veterans, please share in the comments.  Thanks!