By Jim Greene

In recognition of Veteran’s Day, the Boston Public Health Commission salutes all of our homeless veterans.

Veterans are disproportionately represented among the homeless population. Although they make up roughly seven percent of the total population in Massachusetts, in Boston, 16 percent of adults living in homeless shelters and transitional programs are veterans – more than twice the percentage in the overall population.

A recent survey among Boston’s homeless population found more than 580 individuals with veteran status residing in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or on the streets during the month of August 2011.  The majority of these men and women are Vietnam-era veterans, with a smaller numbers from other eras, including the Korean War, the First Gulf War, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of agencies providing shelter, employment training, benefits assistance, linkages to housing services and other case management, the Commission’s Homeless Services Bureau is one of the city of Boston’s “Big Three.” The other two are the New England Center for Homeless Veterans and the Pine Street Inn. Veterans Benefits specialists from the V.A. come to our Long Island and Woods-Mullen shelters monthly to help connect homeless veterans to services.

The Commission also welcomes the city of Boston’s new Commissioner of Veterans Services, Francisco Urena. Commissioner Urena, who came to Boston after four years as Director of Veterans Services for the City of Lawrence, is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was awarded a purple heart for sustained combat injuries. BPHC’s Homeless Services Bureau and Emergency Shelter Commission look forward to working with Commissioner Urena and his team at Boston Veteran’s Services to ensure that younger veterans returning and reintegrating from current conflicts receive the support and services needed to prevent them from falling into homelessness.

For younger veterans, repeated or lengthy deployments can lead to difficulties adjusting to civilian life. Combat experiences can contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder, often complicated by traumatic brain injury or other injuries. For older veterans, health problems related to combat, post-traumatic stress, or addictions can be compounded by problems of aging.

For these men and women who have served their nation in war and peace, our Homeless Services and Addiction Treatment & Prevention Bureaus provide critical services in a dignified, accessible manner. Commission staff work with city, state, and federal agencies to respond to the issue of veterans’ homelessness and we thank them for their service to our city’s veterans.

Please join the Commission in saluting Boston’s homeless veterans. It is a privilege to serve those who have served our nation.

Jim Greene is the director of BPHC’s Emergency Shelter Commission. For more information about BPHC’s homeless services, like emergency housing or job training and education, click here. The V.A. also provides services for homeless veterans, as does the Mayor’s Health Line.