BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It seems so unfair. Soldiers risk their lives for our country, but when they leave the military, they somehow end up living on the streets. At the Biloxi VA, the staff uses an initiative by HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to try to make a difference.
Shoes. Backpacks. Blankets. Gulfport Seabees collected the items to help South Mississippi's homeless veterans.
Chaplain Michael Brown said, "Regardless of what service they were with. Be it the Army or Navy, they're veterans. We continue to support them and thank them for sacrifices that they made for us."
For years, the Stand Down for Homeless Veterans event has provided vets an opportunity for free healthcare and cold weather supplies. However, officials said an alarming trend convinced the Secretary of Veterans Affairs it was time to do more.
"Statistics have proven that there are a number of veterans when they come back from their tour of duty, maybe they've been in combat or maybe they haven't, but for a variety of reasons they have difficulty assimilating back into society," said Gwen Regan, Clinical Social Worker.
Officials said much of the problem with homeless vets centers around substance abuse or mental illness. To combat the problem, some vets are getting housing with vouchers from the HUD Veterans Affairs Specialty Housing program. They are eligible only if they're willing to address their issues with a social worker.
"I started in March and I had 35 vouchers. My vouchers were gone in four months," said Regan. "I just got another allocation of 25 vouchers and for those 25 we have 80 applicants."
Chief of Community and Public Affairs Roy Griggs said, "I'm a veteran myself. I was in the Navy for 22 years. I know what they went through on active duty and I see what they're going through now. I think there is no greater calling than to help them get back on their feet and take care of themselves. "
Biloxi VA officials said another issue is that many homeless vets don't know about the healthcare benefits available to them so a booth was set up to help them enroll for assistance.