RICHMOND, Va. — Social workers at the Central Virginia Veterans Affairs Hospital said they're seeing a rise in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness or unstable housing. In an effort to garner awareness, the VA Hospital held its 13th annual VA2K Walk and Roll. Employees, volunteers, and veterans were invited to participate in a two-kilometer trek around the hospital.
More than $3 million in donations for these types of events has been raised nationally since 2011 to help veterans experiencing homelessness, according to the VA.
"This is an event to raise awareness and to get a lot of donations all at once, which will carry us throughout the year," Dr. Dominque Boone, who helped organize the event, said. "I think that can often be a forgotten population, so the VA wants to make sure no veteran is without the basics that they need. To have care and to have a home."
Dr. Toni Jones, who helps find housing for veterans in need, said her team is serving a growing number of veterans now experiencing homelessness and struggling to find resources.
"We are seeing an increase in veterans, and not just young veterans, not just families, but older veterans as well," Dr. Jones said.
Jones said while she and her team often meet with veterans at high risk of homelessness or are experiencing homeless because of mental health issues, sometimes brought on by their service, outside factors often play a significant role in the reason why veterans struggle to find long-term housing.
"I think sometimes people think that it's all related to mental health or substance abuse, and it's not," Jones said. "We have veteran families that are homeless. We have veterans who lost a job due to injury, and therefore they became homeless. We also have an increase in rent and just inflation in general that's causing homelessness now."
The VA Hospital does have a Housing Crisis Line veterans can call for assistance. However, Dr. Jones said external factors outside of the hospital's control can limit how quickly a veteran can secure stable housing.
"Affordable housing, that's the biggest thing. Having resources to address the need. I think with the increase in rent, it makes it difficult for veterans to get housed. Or having job opportunities for veterans. We have a lot of veterans who are looking to work and be gainfully employed, so that they can be housed, maintain stable and safe housing," Dr. Jones said.
Both Jones and Boone said the VA and its partners collect donation money and are always looking for supplies like personal hygiene products and nonperishable food times.
Jones said she hopes the event will lead more people to advocate for veterans experiencing homelessness.
"That's a big focus for me. That our veterans are treated with dignity and respect, that they have a safe place to live, and somewhere, where they can call home," Jones said.
A complete guide to the VA's homeless veteran care services, as well as access to the hospital's crisis line, can be found here.
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