Guest Editorial by Niagara Gospel Mission
Whether you observe Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 10, or on the official date, Nov. 11, the holiday is “a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
But a 2022 Point in Time survey, completed by HUD in January 2022 is a reminder that more than 33,000 veterans in the United States continue to live in dire straits, “on the streets or in another place not meant for human habitation.”
“We’ve seen a decline in homelessness among veterans here in Niagara Falls,” said John Cooper, assistant director at Niagara Gospel Mission. “But statistics show that thousands of veterans across America continue to survive on the streets or in shelters like ours, where we provide beds for up to 12 veterans each night. Many have lost touch with family members, which makes their situation even more painful.”
Cooper said 15% of the homeless in Niagara County are veterans.
“In response, we instituted a veterans program with its own dorm to allow these men more privacy as they collaborate and deal with issues only they can understand,” he said. “We work directly with veterans organizations in the area to connect each vet with the services he needs. And we educate our community about the needs of vets who are struggling with addiction, mental health issues and other related challenges.”
Veterans who suffered traumatic experiences with resulting mental health or substance abuse disorders may receive disability benefits, but have difficulty using those benefits appropriately.
“That’s why programs like ours can be helpful,” Cooper said. “We can provide a safe space with essential services like food and shelter, along with case management, and other support in a structured environment to provide a path toward stability.”
Cooper said Niagara Gospel Mission’s Christian discipleship program offers an opportunity for long-term transformation in a setting where everyone is working toward the same goals.
“We help clients reconnect with God, find a network of support in a local church, and reconcile with family members,” he said.
Cooper said the community can honor its local veterans by donating money to support the Niagara Gospel Mission’s services for veterans.
“Donating toward the cost of meals and shelter is a very practical way of ensuring the veterans in our area receive the care they need,” he said. “Or donating items such as new packaged underwear, new Bibles, good books for our library, or study supplies, would be very helpful.”
Niagara Gospel Mission is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering essential services and transformational resident programs for men experiencing homelessness, and at-risk families in the community. The agency receives no government funding, choosing instead to rely on the gifts of individuals, businesses, churches, civic groups and private foundation. For an overview of all our services, visit niagaragospelmission.org.