Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why NHC is shining a light on veterans

by Blake Warenik, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

This evening marks the 40th time NHC, along with our members and supporters, has marked our annual Housing Person of the Year Gala, celebrating the achievements of some of affordable housing's greatest leaders and organizations along with our members and friends. But rather than celebrate the number, this year we chose to shine a light on one of the country's greatest housing challenges and the organizations rising to  it: meeting the housing needs of our veterans.

Our veterans are a venerated group, yet they are also particularly vulnerable. More than a million troops are expected to return to country over the next five years. Yet upon returning home, the youngest veterans of ongoing conflicts face an unemployment rate twice that facing non-veterans of the same age group. But veterans of all age groups and from all combat eras face unique problems. While veterans enjoy higher median incomes than non-veterans and are more likely to be homeowners by a wide margin, they are also far more likely to become homeless than the general population. Many come home from combat forever scarred—mentally as well as physically—and need and deserve a helping hand to readjust to civilian life. These are challenges that can be overcome. We must simply begin.

This diverse group also represents a cross-section of America; veterans are men and women of all colors, creeds and backgrounds. The challenges they face are often the same as those all Americans face, and policies that work for veterans will work for us all. As a country united to house our veterans, we can then turn and unite to solve the growing housing affordability and opportunity issues facing a growing number of our fellow Americans. 

We hope you can join with us tonight here in Washington as we honor five groups working tirelessly for our servicemen and servicewomen: The Home Depot Foundation, along with its partners Operation Homefront and Volunteers of America; and the collaboration between U.S. VETS and Cloudbreak Communities. Even if you're not able to make it, keep an eye out for new resources and tools from NHC and the Center to help you get started navigating the veterans' housing world.

Housing organizations are uniquely positioned to assist veterans, and NHC is leading the charge to organize our members and the housing world generally to work alongside veterans groups to respond to this growing need in a targeted, strategic way. Housing is a platform for economic development, health and so much more, and that we owe veterans our assistance in securing safe, decent, affordable housing is clear.

Tonight, as we are joined by our members, our friends, policymakers and military brass, we will share a moment to think of the brave souls not just on foreign battlefields, but fighting hard battles here at home: living on our city streets, facing foreclosure or entering a tough job market. We hope you will do the same not only tonight, but until they all have a place to call home.

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