As we brace for another winter, I’m forced to remember the bone-chilling cold delivered by last year’s “bomb cyclone” and “polar vortex.” It’s hard to forget for those of us living in Wisconsin, where we had days that were colder than Antarctica.

In 2019, approximately 224 million people experienced below-freezing temperatures across the nation. On any given night last winter, nearly 553,000 people faced that cold without a home. Roughly 11 percent of those Americans were our very own military veterans, who remain at an increased risk of homelessness.

Winter is cold. I can only imagine it feels a lot colder when you’ve served your country and still don’t have a place to call home. But our homeless veterans didn’t just face a brutal winter. They also faced a year without a place to celebrate holidays and enjoy family, and they endured a year without the security they deserve.

“Winter is cold. I can only imagine it feels a lot colder when you’ve served your country and still don’t have a place to call home.”

While serving in the Marine Corps, I remember gathering donated clothing and food with some of my fellow Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The winters in North Carolina routinely dropped below freezing, and teams of volunteers from the local community would go out at night and deliver the supplies to the homeless. We knew many of them were veterans, possibly the majority.

It felt good to help. It also stung to know we had homeless veterans struggling within mere miles of one of the nation’s largest military bases.

We still haven’t solved that problem.

But There Is Good News.

I actually think our progress in supporting America’s homeless veterans over the last decade is a message of hope.

Since 2010, we’ve reduced the number of homeless veterans by an estimated 46 percent. We’ve also reduced the number of veterans living without any form of shelter by 50 percent.

Thanks to strong community support, we’re making strong progress.

I’m glad. As we approach 2020, however, I have to believe we can do a lot better than half a million homeless Americans. I also have to believe we can do better for our veterans. We simply shouldn’t accept that they experience rates of homelessness above the national average.

Sure, we’ve dedicated a lot of national resources to tackle the problem. In fact, Veteran Administration programs helped provide housing to nearly 80,000 veterans in 2018 alone. That’s great news, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

There’s still a lot we (You and I) can do at our local community level to promote lasting change.

Donate Clothing and Supplies for Homeless Veterans

Care packages can be for more than the troops who are deployed.

A simple internet search can reveal a host of local organizations that can get your donations to those in need. Some will even pick up the supplies from your house.

You can also find a list of donation centers here.

Donate Money and Time to Local Organizations

Research the support programs in your community to find one you like and make a donation. Even just a little bit can go a long way at the local level.

Plus, giving is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself.

Every year, USCCA employees donate tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to local organizations that help veterans and those at risk of homelessness in our community. I have never regretted a donation I’ve made, and I’ll be doing it again this year.

You can even search for veteran-specific programs at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

I won’t tell you where to send your money, but I personally feel you can make some of the biggest dents by supporting local efforts in your community.

Think Beyond the Immediate Problem

It’s more than just giving money and supplies. It’s about creating opportunities for people to seize independence and adjust through difficult periods.

Groups like Dryhootch help empower veterans on their next journey as civilians after they leave the military. There are tons of other veteran and homeless adjustment organizations throughout the country that are helping right now.

If you are an employer, look into them. Or take a few minutes to see how you can support them. Many have great products you can buy to support their work and they’ll take donations.

Many cities, towns and universities also have similar programs that create events to help people adjust and find employment opportunities.

Remember to support the long-term solutions and let your local representatives know how you feel.

Help an Individual Veteran

There are a lot of specific resources for veterans.

You don’t even have to know what they are. There’s a 24/7 national call center for homeless veterans that can connect them with help.