2015 promises to be a big year -- especially if President Obama and former Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki make good on their promise to end homelessness among veterans by December 31.
If you listen to the pabulum spewed by countless politicians and their millions of constituents, the United States is a nation that loves its veterans and shares high-grade moral outrage when anyone disrespects them.
Skeptical? Don't be. There are scores of websites on the World Wide Web that will tell you just where you can find discounts if you're active military, retired, or just served a little while. Heck, 16 fast food joints give the men and women of the armed forces a sweet deal on food that's no good for them, often made by their brothers and sisters in arms who can't find a better post-service job.
That's right, if politicians really wanted to help veterans they could increase the incomes of 1.1 million of them just by raising the minimum wage. Where do minimum wage earning veterans live? Well, understandably, quite a few of them are homeless. That gives the president and his new Congress 11 months to raise the incomes for all homeless, minimum wage-earning veterans.
The White House website says that the president would like the minimum wage raised to $9 before the end of the year. That'll see the full-time minimum wage-earning veteran haul in roughly $300 a week after payroll taxes. Considering the average apartment rental in a U.S. city is $1,019.05, well, let's just say the president's plan to end veteran homelessness isn't going to succeed based on his measly minimum wage increases: increases the inbound stingy Congress is unlikely to help him realize in the first place.
So without corporations paying wages that will allow veterans to have homes, the VA -- the government, that's the taxpayer -- will have to pay for them. A few years ago the VA got together with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and created the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program. This program -- good news for veterans -- is bad news for other poor folks. There aren't more vouchers for poor people because of VASH, there are just vouchers designated for veterans in the existing overall voucher system.
And while raising the minimum wage would help more than a million veterans, it would also help 28 million workers in total. That's an awful lot of poor people trying to pay rent.
But wait! Surely the goal of housing the homeless veterans -- if it can't rely on corporate patriotism in the form of higher wages and it can't depend on an overburdened voucher system -- surely it can count on the average red blooded American patriot to do their fair share and open their homes to the veterans.
Oh, no, wrong again.
I've worked with the homeless and reported on poverty for decades, but this week I had a conversation that took my breath away.
I called a landlord with an advertised rental unit. The one-bedroom, first-floor unit was perfect for the 70-year-old homeless veteran for whom I placed the call. It was the second thing I'd tried to do for the old gray-haired fella this week. Earlier I'd gotten him socks to keep his feet warm and leant him my copies of Under the Dome, he's a bit of a Stephen King fan.
The landlord was eager to show me the place. I explained that it wasn't for me. I explained that it was for an elderly veteran who is currently sleeping on the floor of a church along with six other veterans and 48 other people ranging in age from 14 months to 73 years.
The landlord informed me that he wanted nothing to do with him. And asked that I never call him again with such a request. I pleaded for him to just meet the old patriot who'd gone to war for him. The landlord hung up on me. Don't tell me to call a lawyer. It's perfectly legal for this landlord to be discriminate against this veteran.
Ending veteran homelessness by 2015? Sorry, Mr. President, you appear to be on your own on this one.