When Stephen Peck sees a homeless person on the street, he knows it could easily be one of his fellow veterans. Roughly 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.
Peck, who served with the Marines in Vietnam, is president and CEO of the Los Angeles–based United States Veterans Initiative (U.S.VETS). The nation’s largest veteran services nonprofit, U.S.VETS runs 20 residential sites and nine service centers across the country, offering counseling, job placement, case management, employment assistance, and drug- and alcohol-free housing.
The son of the late actor Gregory Peck had been a scriptwriter and director until he started as an outreach worker at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 1993. He started reaching out to veterans one by one on the street. Within a week, he dedicated himself to becoming a full-time advocate for homeless veterans.
After hundreds of personal encounters, Peck aspired to work toward a more comprehensive solution to homelessness among veterans. He joined U.S.VETS in 1996 and a year later earned his master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California
Part of Peck’s work is addressing the unique traumas of veterans returning from combat — and the related issues that lead to homelessness, including struggles with mental health, unemployment, post-traumatic stress, sexual trauma and lack of community support. The coronavirus pandemic is only exacerbating those issues, and Peck is advocating for state and federal funding to serve the increased number of homeless veterans U.S.VETS expects to see in the coming months and years.