Providing services to the homeless is an ongoing issue in Lawrence that has grown more urgent in recent weeks because of the closure of the overnight shelter operated by the Salvation Army.
News from Wichita may offer an opportunity at least worth exploring for a certain segment of the homeless population: military veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering building four housing facilities for homeless veterans across the country, including one on the grounds of the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita. If the project moves forward, it would be in operation in about 18 months and serve between 40 and 50 people at a time.
Wichita groups that track homeless populations report that about a fifth of the homeless people in Wichita are veterans. Nationally about a third of homeless men are veterans, and about 75 percent of homeless vets have alcohol, drug or mental health problems that often are related to combat stress or disabilities.
Local counts place the percentage of veterans in Lawrence’s homeless population a little lower than that, 11 percent in a 2007 count and 7 percent in a more recent count. Nonetheless, the Wichita facility might represent an additional resource to help those veterans.
The substance abuse and mental health problems that afflict 75 percent of homeless veterans also are among the great contributors to long-term homelessness. Getting help to deal with those problems is essential to helping people get their lives back on track.
There are many sad circumstances that contribute to homelessness, but the nation should be particularly concerned about homeless veterans who face special challenges that may be directly related to their service. There is something especially sad about a veteran who has served his or her country now struggling to survive without a home. As a nation, we owe them the chance for a better life.
Perhaps the Wichita area already has more at-risk homeless veterans than the proposed VA project can handle, but it would be great if the new facility moves forward and perhaps offers a new opportunity for homeless veterans in Wichita as well as other parts of the state.