Inflation escalates homeless veterans crisis as Code of Vets charity scrambles to keep up

Inflation escalates homeless veterans crisis as Code of Vets charity scrambles to keep up

The number of veterans facing imminent eviction and homelessness is soaring across the country due to skyrocketing inflation, according to a grassroots veterans outreach group.

With federal resources failing to keep up with rising costs and with fewer Americans with enough discretionary funds to give to charities, America’s veterans are facing a perfect storm that is driving far more to the brink, said Gretchen Smith, founder of the nonprofit Code of Vets that assists military veterans across the U.S.

“This historic inflation is wreaking havoc in the veteran community,” she told The Washington Times. “What we are seeing in recent months is an explosion of eviction notices and in homelessness.”

The Consumer Price Index jumped last month to an annual rate of 9.1%, the Labor Department said Wednesday, bringing year-over-year inflation to its highest level in 41 years.

That same month, 61 homeless veterans applied for assistance from Code of Vets. The group also assisted 142 veterans across 27 states who were facing imminent eviction in June.

So far in July, the group has received requests from 17 homeless veterans and is scrambling to help 78 who are in danger of being evicted, 52 of whom have formal eviction hearings scheduled. 

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Mrs. Smith, who is an Air Force veteran, said the figures are unlike anything she has seen since starting Code of Vets in 2019. 

“There’s no comparison,” Mrs. Smith said. “These numbers are even higher than the pandemic. Any savings these families may have had are gone at this point because of the years of the pandemic shutdowns and restrictions. And now we’re experiencing record high inflation.”

The issue has been compounded by a shortage of Veterans Affairs case managers who manage the VA’s housing assistance program leading to a backlog of requests for federally funded housing vouchers. 

And those who manage to receive housing assistance from the VA are still at risk of falling short month to month as rising rents can outpace the VA’s monthly vouchers.

“They have nothing to live on,” Mrs. Smith said. “Everything is wiped out at this point. They’re living on less money with 9.1% inflation, rent being increased, gas prices being the way they are, and groceries being at record highs. They can’t absorb it.”

VA spokesman Randal Noller said that it is working “diligently” to address staffing shortfalls impacting the housing voucher program, and is “working very closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to use existing flexibilities and explore new flexibilities so that Veteran housing vouchers can stay competitive and viable.”

“We are strongly encouraging landlords and property owners to help us tackle this very real concern by kindly renting to Veterans – the very same Veterans who served our nation selflessly in times of need,” Mr. Noller said. “We have a moral obligation to ensure these men and women don’t end up on the streets.”

Until recently, homelessness has not been the main focus of Code of Vets. The group — which operates under the credo “Taking care of our own, one veteran at a time” — assists veterans facing everyday setbacks and raises funds from donations made on social media to help vets get back on their feet. 

Mrs. Smith said the requests that are pouring in and becoming increasingly dire. 

“Army vet Jerome is married, has 2 adult dependents,” reads one post. “Back at work but only part-time hours. Wife has been hit/miss each week with job/jobs. This family is behind, gone through all savings. PT wages and inflation are not helping. $1900.”

The post is accompanied by a photo of Jerome’s VA benefits ID. 

“Army vet Katrina is struggling through domestic issue trying to work full-time, provide for her 3 minors,” reads one post from June. “Behind on rent needs boost or will be evicted. Many other things to get her stable and keep her and the kiddos safe. $1700.”

Katrina is pictured below the post in her Army Combat Uniform.

In recent months, all of Code of Vets’ resources have been focused on veterans that are facing an immediate threat of eviction, leaving those in less dire, but still serious circumstances with one less place to turn for help. 

“The face of homelessness is now changing,” said Mrs. Smith who turns emotional when she speaks about the plight of fellow veterans.

She said it is becoming more and more common for blue-collar Americans, not just veterans, to face imminent homelessness. People living paycheck-to-paycheck just can’t keep up, she said.

“It’s just creating havoc with the thousands and thousands of veteran families that we deal with,” Mrs. Smith said. “It’s just absolutely staggering. The numbers we are dealing with are staggering.”