September 7, 2012

But there's more work to do...

While the numbers are improving thanks to increased awareness and the availability of programs like the Housing and Urban Development and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD/VASH), a recent HUD estimate still places the number of homeless veterans nationwide at 67,000. This is down from 200,000 as recently as 2007, a remarkable success rate but hardly an acceptable number. And it’s worth remembering that about 1.5 million veterans are at risk of becoming homeless for reasons that range from poverty to substandard housing to a lack of support networks.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Francis was sensitive to this last point. It was one reason he volunteered at the Kansas City VA. He knew how marginal life was for many soldiers he served with in the Army. And he knew he had the good fortune to have a strong safety net at home. This was not something he took for granted. Many soldiers enlist because it’s their last best option for security. Quite simply, they can’t find a job and have nowhere else to go. Francis knew men and women who had no one at home and dim prospects when they left the service. And when they were finally discharged, it was often with the additional burdens of debilitating injuries, PTSD from the trauma of war and battle, and alcohol or drug addictions, which for many may have been a self-medicating solution to a system that wasn’t ready to care for the flood of soldiers returning from our current wars with such a wide range of needs.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans tend to become homeless at a much faster rate than Vietnam War veterans. One reason is that these service men and women are serving multiple tours in war zones, which increases the emotional and financial disruptions in their lives and creates a continual state of personal instability. During Francis’s 2006-7 tour in Afghanistan he was subject to the “stop-loss” policy when his battalion’s tour was extended. It was a great disappointment to him and to us, and it came with far more jeopardy than we realized at the time – and this was not something we tended to underestimate in the first place. But for others who also faced stop-loss extensions throughout the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq such abrupt extensions only exacerbated family and financial problems that may already have been serious.

Right here in Kansas City about 2,800 veterans sleep on the street on any given night. The story is similar across the country. Fortunately through your generosity and the fine leadership at the Kansas City VA’s Voluntary Services Unit something is being done to provide stability and security to regional veterans. To date, over $14,000 has been raised since we tragically lost Francis last year. And donors have the confidence of knowing that 100 percent of their donations go directly to providing support services and goods for veterans in a structured and well-managed program.

Veterans Day is coming—and then the holidays. Please do remember our needy veterans as you plan for the holidays. For information on how to donate, please see the column at the right.

I’ll have more information soon on upcoming activities, including a Team Francis Holiday 5K , "Flip-Flops for Francis Day," and next year's big event, the “Ride to Francis” -- a cross-country motorcycle ride by Francis’s godfather Dave, who’ll be riding his Harley from New York to Francis’s resting place at Leavenworth National Cemetery to raise funds for homeless veterans.

 Stay tuned—and thank you for all you do!