Veterans Column: Homelessness Higher Among Veterans, But Help Is Out There
In January, volunteers across America fan out and count all the homeless people they can find – sheltered people in temporary housing and soup kitchens and unsheltered people sleeping in parks, freeway underpasses, watersheds and in vehicles. The numbers from this past January were recently released, and it’s no surprise to those of us living in Southern California that homelessness is increasing – both in the state of California and nationally.
Our numbers here in Ventura County – particularly the spike among homeless veterans – raise cause for particular concern. The census counted 1,669 homeless people in the county on Jan. 22.
This represents a one-year increase of 28% and an increase of 45% over 2017. The number of veterans experiencing homelessness increased by even more, with a 68% one-year increase.
No veteran should be homeless today, with the great resources our country has to offer. The Ventura County Continuum of Care Alliance, a collaborative community-based group, coordinates the annual point-in-time count and is actively working with government, nonprofit and private-sector stakeholders to end homelessness.
Gold Coast Veterans Foundation directly serves homeless veterans, and we have seen the escalation firsthand, with increasing numbers of homeless veterans or veterans on the verge of homelessness seeking help.
The foundation recently hired a formerly homeless veteran to reach out to homeless veterans and implement on-the-ground strategies for addressing their immediate needs. He has been helping individual veterans and families, helping them find temporary shelter, bringing them food or simply engaging them in conversation, letting them know someone cares and wants to help.
Veterans face unique challenges, and research shows they’re more likely than non-veterans to be homeless, so they require individualized approaches in terms of communication, service and responsiveness.
While every situation is different, there are enough commonalities to see patterns and help policymakers and service-providers develop strategies. More than 90% of homeless veterans in Ventura County are over the age of 45. They’re mostly white men, and 75% of them are unsheltered, living on the street or in their vehicle. More than half report a chronic health condition, a physical disability or both.
Some policymakers attribute the overall increase to rising housing costs and the recent fires and mudslides, which displaced hundreds of families across the county. These numbers almost certainly reflect an undercount, as annual point-in-time counts are known to miss people sleeping on the street, in parks or in alleys.
Despite our temperate climate, the temperature on the night of Jan. 22 dipped to 43 degrees in Oxnard, where the highest numbers of unsheltered people slept. This is not acceptable, as we have the means today to ensure that everyone has a safe place to sleep.
Veterans have made great sacrifices for our nation, and we all need to do more to care for these people who put their own health and safety on the line to keep us safe.
Laura Sether is the development project manager for Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. To learn more about veterans services or to help veterans in need, please call the foundation at 805-482-6550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veteran Events in May
May 5, 1-4 p.m.: Cinco de Mayo Celebration at VFW Post 3935 will include salsa and chips, tacos, rice and beans. $8 donation. 300 S. Surfside Drive, Port Hueneme.
May 11, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu Mud Run is open to the public. The 5K run is through mud and obstacles. Naval Base Ventura County, 1000 23rd Ave., Port Hueneme. Call 805-982-5554 or go to www.active.com for more information.
May 24-May 28: Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall, the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. will be at Rancho Tapo Community Park and Veterans Plaza, 3700 Avenida Simi, Simi Valley. There will be an opening ceremony 4 p.m. May 24 and a Memorial Day ceremony 4 p.m. May 27.
May 27, 8:30-10 a.m.: Port Hueneme Memorial Day celebration at City Hall, 250 N. Ventura Road, Port Hueneme.
May 27, 10 a.m.: Simi Valley Memorial Day service will be at the Simi Valley Pioneer Cemetery, 1461 Thompson Lane, Simi Valley. The Marine Corps League President Ronald Reagan Detachment No. 597; Veterans of Foreign Wars District 7, Post 10049; American Legion Post 484 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 55 will render military honors to fallen to comrades of past and present U.S. conflicts.
May 27, 10 a.m.: Ventura Memorial Day service will be at Ivy Lawn Memorial Park, 5400 Valentine Road, Ventura.
May 27, 10:30 a.m.: Westlake Village Memorial Day service will be at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Griffin Memorial Park, 5600 Lindero Canyon Road, Westlake Village.
May 27, 10:30 a.m.: Santa Paula Memorial Day ceremony will be at the Pierce Brothers Santa Paula Cemetery, 380 Cemetery Road. The VFW Mercer-Prieto Post 2043 will present the ceremony with a musical prelude starting at 10:15 a.m.
May 27, 11 a.m.: 54th annual “Lest We Forget” Camarillo Memorial Day service will be at Conejo Mountain Funeral Home, 2052 Howard Road, Camarillo. American Legion Post 741 and VFW Post 1679 will render military honors to fallen comrades of past and present U.S. conflicts. A 205 Bell helicopter from the Vietnam War and mini therapy horses will be on display.
May 27, 2 p.m.: Ventura Memorial Day service will be St. Mary’s Cemetery (bordered by Main St. and Poli St. in Ventura). Sons of the American Revolution and President Ronald Reagan Detachment No. 597 of the Marine Corps League will render military honors to our fallen comrades of past and present U.S. conflicts. A flag-folding ceremony will also take place for Civil War and Mexican-American War veteran Ramon Ayala. Call 805-644-4449 for more information.