It is hard to imagine a veteran homeless in America, yet it happens—and increasingly so in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), homeless veterans are predominately single males who live in urban areas and are experiencing mental health and/or alcohol and substance use challenges. Homeless veterans in America have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, and operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Veterans are often faced with many obstacles when they return to civilian life that put them at risk for homelessness including difficulties finding affordable housing and earning a livable income. Nearly 80% of homeless veterans suffer from mental health challenges, drug and/or alcohol abuse, or co-occurring disorders, the most frequent of which is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to experiences before and during their service. According to a Pentagon report, the rate of violent sexual crimes within the military has increased by 64% since 2006. While only 14.6% of the military, women account for 95% of reported sex crime victims.
How Many Veterans Experience Homelessness?
On a single night in January 2019:
- 37,085 veterans were experiencing homelessness — a 2.1% decrease since January 2018.
- 22,740 veterans were sheltered, while 14,345 veterans were unsheltered.
- 37,085 veterans were experiencing homelessness.
- Most homeless veterans were without children; only 2 percent were homeless as part of a family.
- 90.3 percent were men, while 8.9 percent (3,292 veterans) were women.
Why Do Veterans Experience Homelessness?
Veterans are not unlike civilians when it comes to homelessness. They must navigate the lack of affordable housing and economic hardship that everyone faces in addition to the challenges brought on by multiple and extended deployments. Taken together, these factors create a population that deserves–but can often struggle with–housing stability.
Research indicates that those who served in late Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras are at the greatest risk of becoming homeless but that veterans from more recent wars and conflicts are also affected. Veterans returning from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq often face invisible wounds of war, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which correlate with homelessness.
Ending Veteran Homelessness
Significant progress has been made in housing our nation’s homeless veterans. This is due, in large part, to connecting them with rapid re-housing, through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, and permanent supportive housing, through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH).
In 2019, the HUD-VASH program was able to house more than 11,000 veterans. In 2015 alone, the SSVF program helped nearly 100,000 veterans and about 35,000 children remain in their homes or quickly exit homelessness. Similarly, since 2008, more than 144,000 homeless veterans have been served through the HUD-VASH program. Numerous other programs have played an important role in addressing veteran homelessness including, outreach, employment, transitional housing, and substance use treatment.
Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness are strongly encouraged to contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4AID-VET (877-424-3838) for assistance. If Veterans do not have access to a phone or the internet, only then are they to visit their closest VA medical center without calling in advance. VA also urges Veterans who are not homeless or at risk of homelessness to contact their VA medical center before visiting for any reason. These steps are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There are numerous organizations that are geared to help our Veterans get housing. Here are just a few:
US Vets Inc – The successful transition of military veterans and their families through the provision of housing, counseling, career development, and comprehensive support.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans – is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training, and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.
Military VA – VA has many benefits and services to assist homeless veterans. Disability benefits, education, health care, rehabilitation services, residential care, and compensated work therapy are among the services we offer to eligible veterans.
Hero Homes – Building houses, jobs, and community for those who have fought for the preservation of freedom and democracy for others.
Veterans Affairs – VA’s specialized programs for homeless Veterans serve hundreds of thousands of homeless and at-risk Veterans each year. Independently and in collaboration with federal and community partners, VA programs provide Veterans with housing solutions, employment opportunities, health care, justice- and reentry-related services.
Support Homeless Veterans – (SHV) is a group of dedicated individuals who come from all walks of life. They share the same goal of devoting their lives to helping Military Veterans in any way possible.
Disabled American Veterans – The DAV Homeless Veterans Initiative, supported by DAV’s Charitable Service Trust and Columbia Trust, promotes the development of supportive housing and necessary services to assist homeless veterans to become productive, self-sufficient members of society.
Each VA facility has created separate areas or zones to isolate Veterans with possible or confirmed COVID-19 from uninfected patients who need other routine and emergent care. VA is also identifying appropriate quarantine options for Veterans who are homeless to receive treatment if they are symptomatic or screen positive for COVID-19 but are not ill enough for hospital-level care.
Educate yourself and others. Learn and share as much as you can about veteran homelessness – the causes, its impact, and solutions. Visit with homeless veteran service providers. Contact your mayor’s office for a list of providers, or search the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans database.