“Don’t just thank a veteran. Stand by a veteran.”
By Margaret L. Woods, President/CEO, Independence: A Family of Services, Inc.
Opposition to housing for military veterans can be hard to fathom. Active and retired service members hold a hallowed place in American culture. You will see many active military men and women greet their families from overseas during Thanksgiving Day football broadcasts or over the holiday season and nearly 30 million people make the pilgrimage to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., each year to visit the war memorials there and thank our fallen heroes.
However, when it comes to our own neighborhoods, it seems many of us simply don’t want a military veteran in need living next door. What is known as NIMBY, an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard,” describes the phenomenon in which residents of a neighborhood designate a new development (e.g. shelter, affordable housing, group home) or change in occupancy of an existing development as inappropriate or unwanted for their local area. Common arguments are that there will be increases in litter and crime, and that property values will decrease. However, the benefits for the residents of the program are often ignored.
There are many programs that help reintegrate and transition homeless veterans back into society and reconnect them to the people and things that matter most. This work is imperative, because we owe it to those veterans, who are suffering, to end homelessness and help them get back into a daily functioning life with family and friends.
One of the most basic principles of the non-profit community is to use evidence-based models of care for those in need. IFS is committed to using evidenced-based models in our service delivery. Our mission dictates that we have a moral imperative to assist homeless veterans, who are living with so much despair, to restore their lives to dignity. They deserve to live with the dignity and respect they have earned through their service and sacrifice.
In contrast to other concerns or questions that one might consider, such as building design or capacity, NIMBY opposition to supportive housing for homeless veterans is based on stereotypical assumptions about veterans facing challenges. An equally unfounded concern is that our program will negatively impact surrounding property values. This kind of attitude has a stigmatizing effect on the veterans we are looking to serve. Furthermore, when this NIMBY climate in a community is injected into the local political process it exacerbates the stigma and fuels misconceptions and prejudice. Once triggered this rancor and prejudice is difficult to quell.
As good neighbors the opposition should realize that a homeless veteran who was “good enough” to defend them is “good enough” to live next door to them. Bridge housing is recognized as an evidence-based best practice that allows homeless veterans grappling with challenges to live successfully in their communities. In addition, these programs provide not only housing but also intensive services and support. Likewise, this program model creates a path to reintegrating veterans with their families and communities.
Our homeless veterans just need a chance to get the help they deserve without being ostracized or ignored.
Our bridge home for homeless veterans will provide a full array of services in our building and in the community. Services will include intensive case management, therapy and counseling, vocational services, life skills training, medical services, family reconnection activities, recreation and cultural activities, community engagement, transportation and aftercare. All services will be focused on helping our residents develop the ability to move as quickly as possible to permanent and sustainable housing in their community.
To be successful we all need a place to call home. A place of safety and retreat. A place from which individuals and community can grow. It is only fair that everyone has a safe, decent place to live. And that means everyone including our veterans and heroes. Our bridge housing program will be a temporary and supportive place for homeless veterans to prepare themselves to move to a permanent and sustainable home.