Tens of thousands of veterans will spend tonight sleeping on the streets, in cars or in shelters. Recent estimates show that on any given night, about 62,000 veterans in the U.S. are homeless. But as our Katie Gibas tells us, that's actually dropped by double digit percentages in recent years.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Ernie Bullock and Lidscha Arbakow both served in Vietnam. When they returned home, everything was different.
"People either fear you or people just want to distance themselves from you because something has changed about you," said Ernie Bullock, VA Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist.
Lidscha Arbakow, also a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist in the Homeless Veterans Support and Reemployment Program, added, "I knew I wasn't happy and I observed people who were happy. Folks were engaged in conversation. I didn't know what to say."
As a result, they both ended up homeless. Arbakow was homeless for several years. Bullock for several months.
"I slept in cars. I slept in wooded areas. I slept on rooftops," said Arbakow.
Bullock added, "We know what it is to come back to your country and not be able to fit in, to be rejected."
Bullock and Arbakow eventually made it out of homelessness, thanks to someone who cared enough to help them. Now they are that person for many homeless veterans. They work for one of the many programs the VA offers to help veterans get the health care, housing, education and employment they need to get back on their feet.
"They're very important because they offer support, they lend support to the veterans who are struggling," said Arbakow.
Tamara Goodacre, a VA Health Care for Homeless Veterans Team Leader, added, "The longer someone is homeless, the more difficult it is to make change. And our approach is to build relationships. Our most basic service is outreach where we send social workers into communities, shelters, under bridges to actively locate veterans who are experience homelessness."
One crucial program is building affordable housing for veterans with the resources they need to succeed easily available.
"There are plenty of one bedroom apartments, but they're in areas that are impoverished, that maybe don't have resources that sort of keep veterans ingrained in those people, places and things that keep them down," said Goodacre.
Today, there are more programs than ever to help veterans, as part of President Barack Obama's goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015. And the many programs are working. Veteran homelessness dropped by more than seven percent in 2011. That's on top of double digit declines over the last several years.
"The decrease is amazing to me because that means to me that we have helped veterans instill hope," said Goodacre.
But with more than 60,000 homeless veterans, there's still a long way to go. That's a challenge VA officials say they are already taking on head first.
Resources on Veteran Homelessness:
Homeless Veteran hotline: 1-877-424-3838