Brigadier General Thomas J. Edwards recently retired from the Army after 30 years of service and moved to San Antonio, Texas in May of 2022. He is a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Military Officers’ Association of America, and the 82d Airborne Division Association. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, and master’s degrees from Oklahoma University, the Naval War College, and the Army War College. [email protected]
The Lone Star State’s Fight to Help Homeless Veterans
The Lone Star State is a great place to live! For proof, look no further than all the people moving to Texas from states like California and New York. Did you know that Texas is also a premier national security asset because it is home to hundreds of thousands of active-duty military, military veterans, and retirees? Texas has as many as 15 military camps, posts, stations, and bases. Texas is “home” to over 123,879 active-duty military members, 55,971 Reserve and National Guard members, and over 1,435,787 military veterans. (In fact, veterans make up 6.8% of Texas’s overall population).
Perhaps no place in Texas has a more special military connection than the magnificent city of San Antonio. Nicknamed “Military City U.S.A”, San Antonio enjoys a rich and diverse military association. Texans have been “Remembering the Alamo” since 1836. Fast forwarding, San Antonio today has the largest joint military community in the Department of Defense. Known as, “Joint Base San Antonio” or JBSA, it comprises four key duty stations: Fort Sam Houston; Camp Bullis; Randolph Air Force Base; and Lackland Air Force Base.
America is the best country in the world, in part, because of the sacred obligation it holds for those actively serving in the military as well as those veterans who have served. Unfortunately, veteran homelessness is not a new issue. National, state, and local governments have worked hard to reduce homeless veteran populations. The most successful efforts usually have come after dedicated and collective group actions that enable veterans to secure additional safe and affordable housing. Many public and private organizations also provide a wide range of services for veterans, In partnership with government and community efforts, these organizations are making positive gains at reducing homeless veteran populations.
Nationally, many organizations provide programs to assist the homeless. These include: Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Veterans Affairs (VA); Health and Human Services (H&HS); Department of Labor (DOL); and even a National Call Center for Homeless Vets.
In Texas and San Antonio there are numerous organizations working to reduce veteran homelessness, such as the non-profit Alamo Community Group, “House our Heroes,” San Antonio’s City Commission on Veterans Affairs, Texas Workforce Commission Program (TWCP), the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH), and San Antonio’s exceptional homeless shelter, Haven for Hope.
Homeless veterans often wrestle with other complex issues such as substance abuse and addiction, medical and mental health problems, and legal challenges. Frequently, veterans who experience housing insecurity often live in places not meant for habitation—places like abandoned structures, under bridges, or inside vehicles. We often under count the homeless veteran population because they aren’t as visible as those sleeping on the streets. Instead, many veterans are in emergency shelters, substance abuse facilities, jails and halfway houses, hospitals, low rent motels, or they stay at multiple locations with extended family and friends.
Haven for Hope (https://www.havenforhope.org ) claims a 77% decrease in San Antonio’s homeless population during the pre-pandemic period of 2010 through 2019. Their “mission” is to offer a place of hope and new beginnings, and they do this by providing, coordinating, and delivering an efficient system of care for people experiencing homelessness in San Antonio. They operate a large San Antonio campus that provides transitional housing for some 1,800 people, many of them veterans. This is also why San Antonio’s homeless population often appears much smaller than other big Texas cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston.
According to John Gauna, Veteran’s Service Manager at Haven for Hope, his team works with homeless veterans beyond their immediate shelter needs, for example by establishing Social Security disability benefits, Veterans Affairs benefits, and applying for other federal and state resources that can greatly improve a veteran’s quality of life and finances. This great team also coordinates appointments, transportation, and one-on-one support for each veteran they reach. They further host monthly group meetings that further educate and support veterans in need.
The global COVID-19 pandemic spawned new challenges in the efforts to reduce veteran homelessness. Texas and the entire nation has had to adjust to a new, and more expensive “normal.” Inflation is at a 40-year-record-level high. Texas residents are paying higher prices in 2022 for everything from fuel and transportation to food, medical, and housing costs. And while Texas remains an attractive and affordable place to live (compared to most states), the global economic downturn continues to impact the Lone Star State’s most vulnerable communities, including military veterans.
According to a May 22nd, 2022 ExpressNews.com article, rental rates in San Antonio have increased 18.7% in just the last year. The median price of a home is $338,700 in San Antonio, $337,142 in San Marcos and $550,000 in Austin. Such housing costs are either unsustainable or unachievable for those military veterans who already struggle to achieve food, health, and housing security. And while many great people and organizations are making a difference for homeless veterans, inflation and the increase in housing costs will likely drive more people into homelessness in the Lone Star State and across the nation. This is why we can’t take our eye off the ball when it comes to the homeless and our homeless veteran populations.
No doubt Texas can and will rise up to meet new challenges impacting homeless veterans. This is a fight worth fighting and another reason Texas remains a great place to call home!