The director of a homeless veterans’ shelter says the transition between home-life and the battlefield has improved since the Vietnam War era, but homelessness among veterans is still a problem. Deanna Mackey, director of the Prince homeless veterans home in Mantino, says Illinois is doing a better job of keeping the newer generations of veterans off the street because the community helps them transition better.
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One in every three homeless men is a veteran, and half of them served in Vietnam. More than three quarters of homeless veterans have alcohol, drug and mental health problems. Mackey says those are big reasons they lose their homes. “Some of those ills and problems the individual veterans have… they haven’t got over yet,” Mackey says. Mackey says about 1,200 veterans are homeless in Illinois, and that doesn’t include those who are staying at their relatives’ and friends’ houses temporarily.
Erica Borggren, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, says mentally unstable veterans have trouble maintaining jobs, and unemployment leads to homelessness. “For service members being able to transition back into family life, being able to find a job really matters,” Borggren says. “That’s a big part of what we do stateside.” Only one-fourth of homeless veterans have used VA homeless services. Mackey says many veterans are reluctant to seek help because they view doing so as a weakness.