Number of homeless veterans increases in U.S., Texas but decreases in Tarrant County

Tarrant County provides veterans with housing, job training

TARRANT COUNTY – Those who have served our country and end up on the streets is a growing problem in the United States and across Texas. 

Tarrant County has found a way to defy that trend by helping to provide veterans with the housing and job training they need.

It's been 45 years since Ray Starling enlisted in the U.S. Army. "I joined the Army from Houston, Texas, on January 9th, 1979, to Fort Dix in New Jersey in the dead of winter," Starling said. "My grandfather went through there in World War II. I'm 4th generation Army."  

The retired Army specialist served overseas in Germany.

"I was stationed in Darmstadt with the first-active chemical unit back in '79," Starling said. 

His life changed three years later.

"I was medevacked from Germany back to the United States after a training exercise," Starling said.

The disabled veteran started a career designing and manufacturing starships and military figures. He then realized he was going to inherit a house several decades after getting out of the military.

"My mom was terminally ill, and I was taking care of her," Starling said.

Starling discovered the home had a reverse mortgage and he would be unable to keep it.

"It sold at auction to a new landlord. We took everything out and put it into storage and I went into a shelter," Starling said.

He spent four months living in both a shelter and his car. His dog Princess became his constant companion and often ate better than he did.

"It was pretty rough. It was the streets," Starling said. "There's always fear and uncertainty."

Starling isn't alone. The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs reports veteran homelessness increased by 7.4% nationally and went up 13% in Texas in 2023.

Tarrant County Homeless Coalition Executive Director Lauren King said the county is a different story.

"Since 2018, we've seen veteran homelessness decrease by 42%," King said.

King said some of the reasons veterans experience homelessness can include mental health struggles, especially PTSD, and a lack of support networks.

"For years now, people have told us the main reason they experience homelessness is because they cannot afford to pay rent and also that they don't have the income to meet that need," King said.

Veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans, according to the VA. The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition hopes to help veterans turn the key and walk into their own homes with the help of its partners.

"The VA has invested in homeless prevention to help veterans from ever losing their housing and giving them a chance to stabilize, provide them with case management, and give them a chance to get back on their feet again," King said. "There are a lot of job training and career training programs for veterans."

The coalition said it works closely with area landlords to secure housing, and it receives funding from various agencies to help veterans pay rent.

Those programs helped Starling get back on his feet. He now serves on the advisory council for the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.

"It's just my way to help give back to the community," Starling said.

He's returning the favor by helping other veterans once in his shoes as he steps forward, reminded of where he was, and thankful for the path ahead.

The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition encourages you to call its helpline at 817-996-8800 if you are a veteran experiencing homelessness or know one that is.

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