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09 February 2005

One in Three American Homeless Men is a Military Veteran

Yes, you read that correctly. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (via Russ Kick's latest book, 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know Volume 2), one in three homeless men in the United States is a military vet. This is stunning.

But it's also hopeful. Why? Well, because knowing a statistic like that puts a face on a problem. It also shatters stereotypes that we'd just as soon have stick around. We'd all love to believe that the homeless people we ignore are just lazy. We'd love to believe that they choose this "lifestyle." We'd love to believe that they could get a job if they really wanted one. We'd love to believe that they're all alcoholics and drug addicts who are getting what they deserve. We'd love to believe that somehow these men, women and, increasingly, children are subhuman. That gets us off the hook. In this era of yellow ribbons, a statistic like this one hits dangerously close to home. It makes us uncomfortable. It might actually make us do something. Something other than staring at the ground or pretending to be engaged in conversation when we "pass by to the other side of the road."

There's more good news. If you live in the Chicagoland area, there's at least one tangible way you can help the homeless very soon. On Saturday, February 19th, and Sunday, February 20th, a group of students from across the Midwest is getting together for a "sleep out."

Right on Michigan Avenue, the heart of Chicago consumerism, these students will be raising awareness of issues of homelessness, hunger and poverty. They'll do that by spending a 24-hour period as a mass group of "homeless" people. This grassroots coalition will also be calling on local, state and national governmental leaders to make changes that improve the lives of those living in poverty.

Confirmed participants include the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the National Coalition for the Homeless, Call to Renewal, Protestants for the Common Good, students from North Park University, Moody Bible Institute, Judson College, Illinois State University, University of Illinois Champagne Urbana, Marquette University, Muskegan College and Washington University in St. Louis. And, from what I understand, students from Wheaton College will also be on hand. You can find out more at To the Streets.

Anyways, I'll be there. And so should you.

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