By: Princess Faith
"I just believe there are certain promises that any civilized society and certainly the most powerful and wealthiest democratic nation in the history of the world ought to make to the men and women who give all in defense of our democracy, in defense of our of our freedoms. And the very basic need of shelter is certainly one of those," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says.
Mayor Benjamin signed Columbia up for the Mayor's Challenge to End Homelessness Among Veterans. He will lead Columbia's public, private and non-profit organizations in a plan that will pool resources to put all homeless veterans into permanent housing by the end of the 2015. It's part of a larger effort by the Obama Administration which, along with state and community partners, has already seen a 41 percent decrease in homelessness among veterans since 2009.
Mayor Benjamin says the resources to provide permanent housing to veterans are there, but those resources need to be guided.
"You have a number of different services that may be available [to house veterans], but most of those services are not coordinated at all," he said.
He cited almost 200 veteran housing vouchers in Columbia that are not being used now.
"Many veterans are homeless, some are under-housed, some may be living in our homeless shelters and obviously have this benefit available to them but aren't accessing it. We have to figure out what's stopping that," he said.
Vietnam veteran, William Cannon Jr., says when he passes homeless veterans he reaches out to them and he wishes there would be more communication between local government and the homeless veteran community.
"If they would just come and we just take the time to talk to them and find out there problems and somebody would just listen," Cannon says.
But Cannon understands that sometimes veterans are hard to reach.
“And we as veterans don't like to be crowded. We try to keep to ourselves ‘cause fear that there is no help for us out here.“
Mayor Benjamin says some of the suspicions that veterans have about their government are often deep seated opinions and the government has to continue being transparent in its efforts.
“The challenge is when that group becomes insular and doesn't open [up] to other groups that show, I believe, the great power of diversity and people coming together and dialoging, that's the challenge. We've got to continue to work [to] kind of break down those silos. The amount of resources out there are significant enough that we can really make a dent and help people improve the quality of their lives in a significant manner,” he said.
No one knows the problems a homeless veteran faces when they return home from war. says apart from being traumatized, veterans also have to deal with being labeled by civilians.
"You got so many people feel like the veterans, when they went to Vietnam and come back or whatever war they come back [from that] they went to, they were crazy. We ain't crazy! We got plenty good sense! All we asking for you just to help us," he said.
Mayor Benjamin says Columbia will do all it can.