A few days ago, I had a homeless veteran and his 78-year-old mother sitting in my office. I offered them both a cup of coffee and once we were settled in, the mom shared how the “system” had failed her son to the point that they were now living together…for the past seven months…in a seriously dilapidated Buick that has no heater.
She too had fallen on hard times.
Because they are mother and son and not husband/wife or girlfriend/boyfriend, the shelters turned them away because they didn’t meet the “profile.” I followed up with several shelters and their story held true. Their option is to separate and each go to a male and female shelter – except mom serves as caregiver when her son has grand mal seizures – so they choose the car.
The good part of this story is that we were able to get some “action-oriented” individuals in the VA system to stamp his file “expedite” and a person from the Homeless Veterans Outreach Center assigned to his case to ensure it doesn’t stall again – but mom and son getting into some form of affordable housing is still months out.
As they walked out of my office, I thought, “But for the grace of God go I,” not suggesting for one moment they don’t have God’s grace, but I did (and do) realize how fortunate I am. With one in eight adults and one in four children on government food stamps and “the cost of medical care rising at rates well above the rate of inflation,” (this is a direct quote from my insurance provider as they increased my monthly rate $200+), the “every day Joe,” young and old, could be greeted by no job, no pension, furlough, etc, in the coming months because of political show-downs – all leading to no income…and no housing.
According to a recent article in TIME, “600 million jobs need to be created in the developing world by 2020 just to keep up with population growth. Globally, some 200 million people are currently unemployed.” More than 70 percent of college grads in the U.S. are struggling to find employment – and if you are a veteran you fight against misperception (all veterans have PTSD or are suicidal) among close to 50 percent of hiring managers.
Welcome to the “under 50 years old” club. For those of you over 50 and on some form of retirement, be aware of what conversations are happening behind closed doors.
Employee compensation accounts for the largest overhead in most, if not all, companies. It is easier to justify employee compensation for someone who is working in today’s economy as opposed to someone still on the payroll who is no longer working. Past performance aside, you are dead weight. Pensions and retirement compensation plans are in the bulls-eye of many CEOs.
As an aside, the recent jump in the Social Security tax from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent caused grief among more than just a few in this country. What are we talking — $40-$120 — reduction in a paycheck? To some this means no heat in the house.
Granted, we live in a rather affluent city – and of course we are insulated from the rest of the world – until they show up in my office.
Here’s the bottom line: We all need to be thinking outside the box when it comes to job creation, sustainable tax revenues, and making Edmonds a destination city. The divide between those who have and those who don’t or won’t is getting bigger, and if we try to tackle today’s problems with an “how we’ve always done it” attitude (which is still very real in our VA system), there will be more moms and their sons – families in general – living in their cars.
Don’t think for a moment homelessness can’t knock at your door or your neighbor’s.
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.