True patriotism

Published 10:50 pm Friday, March 21, 2014

For most people, it is hard to imagine how a nation as comparatively wealthy as the United States could have a problem with homelessness. Yet the problem assuredly persists.

A point-in-time count of homeless people across the nation in January 2012 found nearly 634,000 people who were homeless. That number represented a decrease of less than 1 percent from the previous year, with slight improvements in all subpopulations except for homeless families, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

What’s nearly inconceivable, though, is the number of homeless veterans included in the numbers. Though homelessness among vets decreased by about 7 percent during the period, veterans still accounted for nearly 1 in four of those sleeping in cars, boxes, alleys or doorways. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 131,000 vets are homeless on any given night, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans puts that number closer to 200,000.

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For all the talk of yellow ribbons and home fires burning, the sad fact is that thousands of men and women who have worn our nation’s military uniforms return home to no homes. That fact is a travesty of American patriotism.

As part of a commitment by the federal government to end homelessness among veterans by the end of next year, federal and state veterans’ agencies and other non-governmental veterans’ organizations have begun to combine their resources to confront the problem.

That effort yielded results this week for one U.S. Air Force veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mari Richardson had been wounded in the service and was medically discharged. Soon, she and her daughter found themselves without a home.

But officials with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program put their heads together, found money to apply to the problem in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and bought and rehabilitated a foreclosed property for Richardson and her daughter.

Richardson and her daughter now have a home of their own on Bradford Drive in Suffolk.

Richardson took possession of the home in Suffolk during a tearful ceremony on Wednesday. If she stays in the home for 15 years, she will own it, mortgage-free.

Helping Richardson find a home was a true stroke of patriotism.