There are now more than 1.7 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, one in five is expected to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Some of those veterans turn to alcohol or drugs; more and more wind up on the streets (Veteran Affairs Summit on Returning Veterans, August 2011, Fayeteville, NC. )
And the numbers, according to advocates for the homeless say that they are seeing only the beginning of the problem that will persist to grow. I have similarly witnessed the same increase in our admissions of OIF/OEF military personnel here at Perry Point. I don’t see it getting any better.
It all begins when service members are being pushed out of their respective services for behavior that stems from combat stress, such as alcohol and drug abuse. Many of them are getting into trouble as they struggle to fit back into society after the high-risk, high-adrenaline rush of war. The same behaviors that help on the battlefield are not good for life at home.
A lot of them are getting chaptered out with a less-than-honorable discharge and some of those lose their benefits winding up with no safety net on the outside.
A common misconception is the belief that the incidence of homelessness nationally and locally is the result of the government’s failure to fund social service programs adequately. In truth, spending on homelessness in this country is unprecedented. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), about 3 billion dollars of this year’s defense spending went to homeless agencies for veterans. Most of that to housing.
The problem is clear. The government does not have the right answer. The church must step forward and become the prophetic voice it has been called to be for the homeless. As Christians, we can not continue to stand by and think this will going away.
No amount of water poured into a broken glass will fill that glass. Similarly, assistance that is given to a homeless person – without addressing the underlying causes of homelessness – doesn’t fix the person or the problem. Either the resources become depleted and the person falls back into homelessness, or the person relies on society permanently to keep them afloat. Homelessness will escalate as long as this practice continues.
When the number of productive citizens within a society falls below a certain level history shows us that the society will fail to thrive. For the sake of the individual and the community as a whole, it is crucial that churches work together to help veterans become independent and productive members of society.
If I am correct in my diagnosis that broken relational resources are the primary cause for homelessness then it only stands to reason we would go to the Body of Christ to help mend these relationships. We cannot change the brokenness of the past in a person’s life but we can use our personal resources to provide a new family environment for those who have never known the love of Christ.
It is not an accident that the over-riding topic in the Word of God is relationships and the Body of Christ was called to mend broken relationships. Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:37-39
Who is our neighbor?