Veterans Homeless Down By The River... And One Small Fix!
Did you know that Kansas City has more than 9,000 homeless citizens in Jackson County and hundreds of them are military veterans? Even worse these veterans are hidden from view living in tent cities near the Missouri River. Why? Many veterans say returning home society has become way too competitive and lacks the connectivity and camaraderie they experienced in tight knit military unit.
Service men and women also avoid asking for help because of societal stigma associated with public assistance. And many service people returning home suffer from the ill effects of PTSD turning to drugs and alcohol attempting to self medicate. Especially hard hit are veterans with no one to reach out to while they might be dealing with symptoms of combat fatigue.
As a Board Member of the Jackson County Housing Resource Commission, I knew about the homeless population. I understood the services provided by helping organizations. I knew about the shrinking amounts of funding allotted each year to providing overnight beds. But I literally stumbled onto the problem of homeless veterans during a visit to Full Employment Council waiting to take my sister out to lunch.
(Maria D. Brown) a 10 year Navy veteran working as a Veterans Service Provider, (under her breath) told me, "I won't be able to help most of these people! The small room where she worked was filled with vets seeking jobs and economic assistance, so busy I waited over an hour before we were able to go for her break. Shocked at what she had just said, I asked, "why not?" She simply said, " because they didn't have an addresses to put down on the government forms!"
In 2005 I became a Missouri legislator and I never forgot that conversation. These great Missourians, who fought to protect our freedoms, were returning home and becoming our most vulnerable citizens! There had to be a solution. Every legislator whether democrat or republican wanted to help. Even members of the Jackson County Legislature's "Housing Resource Commission" wanted to come to Jefferson City to testify on behalf of our veterans.
Clyde McQueen, president of the Full Employment Council provided data. "Why couldn't veterans just used the church or the shelter or the helping organizations (like the Full Employment Council's) address? A Bill was drafted and made into a "Consent Bill", which flew through votes in the House and Senate. The "Homeless Veterans Bill" was welcomed by the republican Governor Matt Blunt and Lt. Governor Peter Kínder, even a "Special Bill Signing Event" was convened that included representatives from the Veterans Commission, the Missouri National Guard and Officers from the U.S. Military were present and I was asked to say a few words about the Bill. I told the very same story told above. (picture above)
So on this very special Veterans Day I wanted to say, "to all those who serving our country, thank you! I'm very proud of "The Homeless Veterans Bill!. And I pledge to continue working hard for all Missourians in the future.
Michael R. Brown, (former) Representative 50th District Missouri House Legislature (2005 to 2013)
Michael R. Brown, is currently Vice President of The Board Metropolitan Community Colleges Board of Trustees