The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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The Gotham Beat: City not doing enough for homeless vets

On any given night in New York City, there are an average of 2,500 veterans sleeping on the street.

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs reported that the city’s homeless veterans are mostly male, and the majority of them hail from the nation’s urban centers. As operations in Iraq and Afghanistan come to a close, the U.S. military has begun drastically cutting numbers. Many of these young veterans, though provided with certain military benefits, find themselves on the street.

Over the last few years, New York City has been refurbishing shelters and overhauling programs to prepare for what publications have called an “onslaught of veterans,” with a “tsunami of need.”

These are the wrong words to use. It isn’t an onslaught, or a tsunami of any kind. It’s much simpler. It’s young men and women coming home to New York City. The federal government and city officials have been working together for years to produce more effective programs to aid the homeless. Section 8 housing  voucher programs work to subsidize a portion of rent payments for those who qualify. The program is designed to help veterans move from shelters and  temporary housing into their own apartments.

However, it can take months to be accepted to the program, and New York City receives a very limited number of vouchers each year – the number of vouchers available is far less than the number of homeless veterans in need.

Despite the initiatives the city has in place, the efforts are continually under-funded, and they are not effective for the new generation of veterans returning from war.

Perhaps the most notable issue is that the bulk of homeless aid programs target families and children, while the vast majority of homeless veterans are young, unaffiliated, single men.

City officials have said they don’t expect to see numbers of homeless veterans rise the way they did after Vietnam. They attribute these expectations to changing demographics in the military, where many retuning servicemen are older, better educated and more likely to be married.

While these statistics are true, particularly within the National Guard, they may not have much bearing on the outcome. Vietnam veterans did not begin appearing en masse on New York’s streets until the mid-80s. Over the next decade, the city could see a steady increase in homeless veterans, who they will be ill equipped to aid.

Aid and subsidy programs, shelters and soup kitchens are not the solution. The way to avoid a jump in homeless veteran numbers is to ensure that when they come home, they’ll be able to be educated and hired.

In the last few weeks, veterans have been all over the news. Corporations and human resources departments are taking strides to hire more veterans. Colleges and universities are attempting to become more “military friendly.” St. John’s recently promoted psychological care for veterans.

We’re trying – but it isn’t good enough.

There have been a number of stories in recent news about “vetrepreneurs,” veterans who’ve started their own small business, or opened a branch of a franchise.

Many universities are taking advantage of the trend, inviting veterans to take part in entrepreneur “boot camp” classes.

While the success of these veterans should be lauded, their stories all have one element in common. They all attempted to enter college or the workforce after leaving the military, and were faced with issues assimilating back into civilian society. Many spoke to hiring managers who said they had difficulty interpreting the military skills and experience listed on the veterans’ resumes.

While the skills a veteran requires through military service translate well into an entrepreneurial career, it should not be necessary for these men and women to be self-starters because it is difficult for them to be hired elsewhere.

Instead of teaching veterans to be their own bosses, we should be educating America’s bosses to understand the veterans.

New York City’s updated programs and facilities will help to avoid the “tsunami” of veteran need from sweeping over the city in the coming months. But the real preparation should be done on a higher level.

Our country’s veterans are not a burden. Rather than taking steps to fix the “problems” they present, this city should educate and prepare itself to avoid them altogether. The city shouldn’t be focused on housing the homeless veterans – they should be dedicated to ensuring that they never wind up on the street to begin with.

These are men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives for those of us who stayed behind. Now they’re coming home, and we should guarantee that each and every one of them has a home to return to.

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