"We are going to remain relentless ... in our fight to end homelessness among our veterans. We have to have zero tolerance for homelessness among our veterans.” -- President Barack Obama (January 24, 2011).
In 2010, President Obama declared that his administration would end homelessness among veterans in five years. A lofty, ambitious goal after 14 years of a nation at war, a deep recession and an economic recovery that has primarily benefited upper-income Americans.
That goal has fallen short. On a brisk fall afternoon in a homeless encampment just a mile from the White House, homeless veterans haven’t seen their lot improve.
“There’s a big push to get veterans into housing by the end of the year,” said Paul Darr, who carries a cardboard sign with the words, "Homeless Navy veteran, please help." “Here I am, four months later."
As the five-year target runs out, and the cold of winter edges closer, thousands of our nation's finest remain without a home.
While homelessness among America's finest has improved nationwide, it is still rising in 17 states, and there's been a 13 percent increase in Washington, D.C., where 1 in every 50 veterans remains homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
As many as 840,000 men and women who have served in the uniform of the United States went to sleep without a home on at least one night in 2014, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and on any given night. Many combat veterans find themselves homeless through the evil of drug addiction -- of every 10 veterans returning from overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of them suffers from substance abuse, according to the Veterans Affairs Administration.
And one in every three of those veterans is also suffering from Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many fall through the cracks, get lost in the bureaucratic flurry of papers, and disappear onto the streets.
Yet the United States has begun to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees -- at an estimated resettling cost of $15,700 each, according the State Department, despite the plight of thousands of veterans still left out in the cold.
In several interviews conducted by LifeZette around DC, many of these veterans are looking out for themselves, and aren’t waiting on elusive aid from the federal government or the president.
"I’d really love the opportunity to get a job," Darr said, his voice choking a bit as he looked away, "because Lord knows, it’s humiliating.”
But the hope of veterans finding work and housing can often be blocked by illegal aliens. “That's the problem... they work for 5, 6, 7 dollars an hour,” said one homeless man, an Army veteran who once served on the illustrious 82nd Airborne. “You know, I used to make 25 dollars an hour, I don't make nothing anymore.”
And that, too, is going to get worse: In November 2014, Obama by executive action announced a de facto amnesty for the approximately 11 million illegal aliens currently living in the nation.
Without seeing the aid promised by Obama, the veteran of the 82nd Airborne remains hopeful and innovative. He showed LifeZette new tattoo equipment he'd recently bought with $600 he saved from panhandling. He plans to save up for a bus ticket to New Orleans, where he has a place to stay and hopes to start a small tattoo artist shop.
"We gotta get outta' here, it's gonna' happen," he said.
Hope persists, but for many of America’s veterans, the daily struggle to find food, find work -- and to find a home seems an endless cycle.
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