Ending veteran homelessness a laudable goal, but is it realistic?

SHARE Ending veteran homelessness a laudable goal, but is it realistic?

Dallas Wade’s experience might not fit everybody’s notion of what it means to be homeless. He’s never slept on the street or in a shelter.

But as he sat in a park at 65th and University a year ago September, not knowing where he and his fiance and three children could spend the night, the Iraqi War veteran certainly considered himself homeless.

Out of work and money, out of patience from landlords and newly kicked out of his retired mother’s home, Wade was smacked with a sense of hopelessness similar to what he says he felt in Iraq.

“I don’t ever want to feel like that again,” Wade, 26,  told me this week from the comfort of Hope Manor II, a newly-built supportive housing development for veterans and their families at 60th and Halsted where his family now lives.

The 73-unit Hope Manor campus, a collaboration between Volunteers of America and Chicago Housing Authority, has helped Wade put himself back on a path that should save him from that predicament.

Such housing initiatives are also among the reasons Mayor Rahm Emanuel confidently has committed the city to President Barack Obama’s ambitious goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.

With a new influx of $5 million in federal funds and a smaller commitment of $800,000 more from the city in the mayor’s new budget, Emanuel says Chicago can meet what he calls our “moral obligation” to house all homeless vets in just 16 months.

“Nobody that served their country and volunteered to serve their country should come home and not have a roof over their head,” Emanuel told me Friday.

That’s very true. It’s a laudable goal, and I’m glad to see the mayor making the commitment.

As Wade himself told me, by setting a deadline, “they’ve made themselves accountable.”

“It’s great to hear. It’s something you can get behind,” Wade said.

Still, as a professional skeptic, I’m not convinced the deadline is particularly realistic—or even a reasonable assessment of the scope of the problem. 

The city identified 721 homeless veterans when it took its annual count in January. That included 465 vets living in homeless shelters and another 256 living unsheltered on the streets. That’s out of a total identified homeless population of 6,294.

By that measure, though, Wade and his family would never have been regarded as homeless, just one small example of why homeless advocates say such official counts identify only a fraction of the homeless problem.

Many homeless people are hidden from view like Wade, bunking with family members or friends–until their options run out.


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