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Graduate writes thesis on veteran homelessness

Written by on March 1, 2023

NORMAL, Ill. – Jefferey Walsh, a second year graduate student at Illinois State University, is working on a thesis over the course of the Spring 2023 semester that takes a deep dive into the issue of veteran homelessness. Walsh belongs in a cohort of 11 in the applied community economic development sequence of political science at ISU.

Walsh, a veteran himself, served as an Army medic and a Peace Corps volunteer before beginning his collegiate education. 

25 years ago Walsh himself found himself homeless. He was luckily able to recover, however not everyone shares the same fortune. With a background in the military and firsthand experience of homelessness, his thesis resonates with him on a personal level.

Taking a broad approach to the subject matter, Walsh looks to explore every angle of the issue in depth. He began writing to US Senator Tammy Duckworth years ago and finally received a response this year. Walsh plans to head to Capitol Hill the first week in March for Peace Corps Week where he plans to meet with Duckworth to discuss his thesis. 

Duckworth has been a focus of Walsh’s from the beginning of this project due to her resonance on the issue. Duckworth, a veteran herself, says “We are all dishonored when a veteran sleeps on the same streets that he or she has defended. We are all dishonored when a veteran’s family has to live in a shelter while he or she is out fighting for us. We need to fix that”. This message has been a large motivator for Walsh’s thesis.

An important factor Walsh highlighted was the G.I. Bill. This bill started in 1944 and gives veterans and their dependents educational benefits. The issue, however, is that some veterans may not be ready to use their GI bill right out of the military. Some veterans may have a difficult time readjusting to life outside of the military which hinders their ability to take advantage of the G.I. Bill. This has contributed to the rise in numbers of veteran homelessness across the nation.

SkillBridge is a military internship offered to those in their last year of enlistment. During a 6 month block this program teaches soon-to-be veterans a variety of job skills before re-entering regular life. It’s believed that this program will help assimilate veterans who worked performing a job that isn’t offered outside of the military. Where a computer programmer could find work outside of the military, it would be much more difficult for a retired tank operator to bring those skills to civilian life and find work. Walsh is using his thesis to try and find out how effective and extensive the SkillBridge program is through qualitative and quantitative data. 

Walsh believes that veteran programs are essential to help avoid homelessness. He used to serve in AmeriCorps in Montana and has been in contact with the Veterans Treatment Court here in Bloomington. These programs offer treatment plans for veterans in need of the basics like mental healthcare and job preferences.

Walsh believes more money is needed to be funneled into these programs however, saying “First of all, there’s a lot of money spent on the military. Period. Billions of dollars. And it just makes one wonder why some of that money isn’t diverted more towards homelessness”.

There are plenty of boot camps there to assimilate individuals into the military, but Walsh would like their to be more boot camps helping veterans assimilate back into civilian life. He hopes to learn whether or not SkillBridge is a viable option. 

While homelessness has been on the decline recently, more still needs to be done. Places like Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California are known as “tent cities” because of their enormous population of homeless people. There are many programs out there helping veterans such as Joining Forces, which was founded by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden in 2011 to help the families of veterans.

Another topic Walsh will address is incarceration rates. While homelessness is decreasing, is incarceration of homeless people increasing? Walsh will aim to answer whether there is a cause and effect relationship between the two or not by the end of the semester.

Walsh plans to have 40-50 pages written up by the end of spring for his thesis. For those wishing to know more, Walsh will be attending the University Research Symposium on April 14th in the Brown Ballroom of the Bone Student Center from 9-11 am and 1-3 pm.