My grandfather hardly ever spoke about his service during World War II. He left his studies at Boston University for the Marine Corps, joining their aviation arm and flying B-25s in the South Pacific as a pilot.
He was eventually awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.
When he returned from service, my grandfather walked into the Columbia Law School dean’s office in uniform and told the dean of admissions, “I’m going to school here now.” And with that, he was accepted.
He went on to become one of the pioneers of water law in California, taking on a key role in the postwar development of California water resources. He formulated the water allocation plan that changed California water policy and became the basis for water and hydroelectric projects implemented by the Brown Administration in the 1960s.
My grandfather talked a lot about water law and pushed me to attend his alma mater, Columbia Law School (which I eventually did).
But still, he never talked about his service. He did not express any particular pride nor sorrow, but we all knew he felt both. It was my mother who told me he carried tremendous sorrow and profound guilt over the fact that he lost most of his friends from his squadron. He believed there were split decisions made by higher-ups that unnecessarily cost the lives of his brothers.
While he did not talk about his service, my grandfather helped fellow veterans for the rest of his life.
When I was 13 years old, we were walking into a movie theater and an unhoused individual was talking to himself and wearing a Vietnam veteran hat. My grandfather looked at him and said, “This isn’t right and it cannot be justified. Every night that a veteran sleeps on our streets is another day that our society has failed.”
That moment stayed with me, and continues to be my motivation for helping as many veterans as possible.
I imagine that there isn’t a person reading this who disagrees with what my grandfather said to that unhoused veteran decades ago.
The question now is, where do we go from here?
We have approximately 11,000 unhoused veterans in California. The good news is that, nationally, the total number of veterans experiencing homelessness has decreased 11% since January 2020 and 55.3% since 2010. This is largely attributed to enormous financial resources that came from the federal government during the Obama Administration through housing subsidies known as VASH vouchers.
The problem is that veterans are becoming unhoused nearly as fast as we are housing them. We cannot address veteran homelessness by merely housing those who are already experiencing homelessness. We have to find ways to prevent veterans from falling into homelessness in the first place. This can include a wide array of assistance mechanisms, including rent subsidies, free legal and mental health services, job training, apprenticeship programs, and more.
We also must stop building units that cost nearly $1 million each and start looking for cost-efficient solutions, like repurposing abandoned buildings and building “tiny home” communities with wrap-around services. We need permanent housing solutions, and they need to be faster and cheaper.
The bottom line is that with the political will and people in elected office who will make ending veteran homelessness a priority, we can get all of our unhoused veterans off the street and into housing, and do everything we can to ensure no additional veterans fall into homelessness.
Veterans risked their lives and were often injured protecting our country, and stable housing is the least we can do to repay their heroism.
When it comes to veterans experiencing homelessness, my commitment will never waver. Our ultimate goal should be nothing short of ending homelessness as we know it, starting with our veterans and our children.
We must not tolerate living in a society that allows for our veterans to sleep, starve and die on our streets. Let’s make this a top priority and end veteran homelessness once and for all.
Anything less, in the words of my grandfather, cannot be justified.
Kipp Mueller is a Canyon Country resident and candidate for the state’s 21st Senate District, which encompasses the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.