Fighting For a Home

fighting for a homeAs the fireworks shoot into the air, one after another, creating a tapestry of flashes and colors, the night sky will alight this July 4th. No matter how young or old, a well done show of fireworks can excite, inspire and remind a person of the American Dream. This great country was founded upon a fighting spirit for personal and collective freedom and opportunity of its people. July 4th is a celebration of that initial fight for independence and the birth of a country. They fought for a new home in the land of opportunity.

The fires within that marked that first fight for independence continue to this day as Americans fight for freedom and democracy, both locally and abroad. We fight to maintain what made this country great and work hard to create similar opportunities for those in other countries. As a result, men and women have sacrificed and even given their very lives so that we, all of us, can enjoy freedoms that many in this world can’t even imagine. Veterans and active military have and continue to fight for us, so that we can call America our home.

Who fights for them?

Yet, one has to wonder if this country fights enough for its veterans. While the vast majority of Americans will be throwing charcoal on grills, sharing food and drink with family and friends and finding the best place to watch community firework displays, there is a large population of men and women, including their children, fighting an invisible fight in our own backyards. The estimates are close to 50,000 veterans across America and 250 homeless veterans in Broward County alone, who continue to fight  for a home as you read this article. They are fighting on  the streets of this great country to create a home for themselves.

As the headlines of  the wars they have served in have faded and the  dust  settles  on the discharge  paperwork  back to a life  they  have  forgotten how to live in, for too many, the realities of a different war begin. This new battle is one where a lack of employment, education and housing,  stressful  family and marital relationships and even PTSD, mental illness and substance abuse all begin to rise upagainstourveterans. Formany, these are battles that service in the military has prepared them for and supportive families and community become a part of the successful transition. For others, this battle ends on the streets and, for an alarming number of veterans, suicide.

We can help

While we are all limited in how we can support our troops as they fight for our continued freedom and home, we can do much to help veterans fight for their homes when they return from service. As the ravages of war take a toll on the mental stability of many veterans,  we can fight for them. As the strain of returning to “normalcy” for young families mounts, we can fight for them. Together we can fight for veterans in this country to all have homes.

There is an end in sight; there is an Independence Day on the horizon for all veterans who face homelessness. For many communities across America,  there is a battle raging to end homelessness for veterans. Commonly referred to as Zero 2016, there is a growing movement of people who realize the grand travesty that  we  have   inadvertently, and quietly, allowed to happen. Those who fought for our home, returned with no one  to  fight for theirs.

This movement, Zero 2016, is a national campaign to raise awareness and spark efforts to reduce homelessness for veterans to zero by December 2016. We as a community (Broward County) has signed on and begun to make a direct effort to provide and align permanent housing options for veterans. Through this last year, the Broward County Homeless Continuum of Care Board has reported that we are on track to end homelessness by the end of next year. We are one of many cities working on this effort and hope to follow in the success of communities like Houston and Flagler.

Locally, efforts like Mission United, with the United Way, HOPE4Vets, through HOPE South Florida, and  Operation Lift Hope are all working together to provide housing for veterans. Mission United and HOPE4Vets both provide new housing services for  veterans and have ended  homelessness for scores of veterans this last year alone. Operation Lift Hope will launch this September  in our community with a flagship event at the Broward Convention Center, celebrating what we have accomplished and setting the stage for a true end of homelessness for veterans next year.

Collectively we are making headway towards an end. For people like LaQuita, a single mother with two young girls, and Denis, who supplements his disability income making and selling decorative potted plants, and the hundreds of men, women and their children who have won the battle against homelessness in our community, they are more than survivors; they are veterans.

Robin Martin is executive director of HOPE South  Florida,  a non-prof- it organization serving homeless and hurting individuals and families through partnerships with churches and community services. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Army and served in the Bosnia Peace Keeping Mission. He can be reached at [email protected]


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