Despite the life skills and job qualifications that military service can provide, veterans make up about 11 percent of the United States homeless population, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV). Factors such as physical injuries, bad housing markets, and mental illnesses like PTSD have resulted in over 40,000 former service members sleeping on the streets on any given night, with 1.4 million more veterans considered “at risk” for homelessness.
The good news is that the NCHV also reports that veteran homelessness is steadily declining, and the Pittsburgh area has seen more and more veterans getting the assistance they need to successfully continue their lives as civilians. If you want to be part of those efforts, here are a few things you can do:
Host fundraisers for reputable veterans’ support organizations.
Western Pennsylvania is lucky enough to have multiple nonprofit organizations that help veterans get back on their feet. Some, like the Veterans Leadership Program of Western PA, help veterans find housing and offer supportive services to help them build their careers. Wesley Family Services uses funds donated to their Veterans Outreach program to provide transportation, food, clothes, and other necessities to former service members in need.
Organizations like these know how to best allocate funds to help end veteran homelessness, which is one reason why over 500 former service members in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have been removed from the streets and placed in housing since 2014, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Donating your own money or holding work or community fundraisers can help these organizations continue to provide the goods and services veterans need to get back on their feet and continue on the path to success.
Donate supplies to shelters and thrift stores.
Many shelters are not only in need of the nonperishable food and gently used clothing people are traditionally told to donate, but also items like hygiene products, new socks, and interview-appropriate clothes such as suits and ties. Showing up to an interview cleaned up and well-dressed could be the reason a veteran gets a job, which is a huge step forward on the path to financial independence.
If you’re moving or just want to clear some space in your house, consider donating your furniture to thrift stores. Many charities don’t have the space for large items like beds, chairs, and tables, but second-hand retailers can make the transition from homelessness easier by providing low-cost furniture.
If you’re not sure what to donate, call your nearest shelter or veterans support organization and ask which items they currently need.
Volunteer your time and expertise.
The success that Western Pennsylvania has achieved in ending and preventing veteran homelessness wouldn’t be possible without the help of so many dedicated volunteers. Whether you have specialty experience or just the desire to help local veterans, there are plenty of opportunities for you to put your abilities to use. Some of the positions needed by nonprofits in the Pittsburgh area include:
- Housing or employment mentor
- Tax site volunteer
- Veterans court mentor
- Special event volunteer
- Crisis hotline volunteer
Just one person can make a huge difference in a veteran’s life, and your efforts could help a former service member get on the path to success once again.
The generous nature of the Pittsburgh community is one of the main reasons so many of the area’s veterans have food on their plates and a roof over their heads. Contact your nearest veteran support center to learn more about how you can help.