describes the condition of people without a regular dwelling. People who are homeless are most often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure, and adequate housing, or lack “fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence.” The term homeless may also include people whose primary night-time residence is in a homeless shelter, a warming center, a domestic violence shelter, cardboard boxes or other ad hoc housing situation. American Government homeless enumeration studies also include persons who sleep in a public or private place not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
Who are homeless veterans?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation’s homeless veterans are mostly males (four percent are females). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45 percent suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War I, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Forty percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than sixty-seven percent served our country for at least three years and thirty-three percent were stationed in a war zone.
Roughly 56 percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 12.8 percent of the 15.4 percent of the
U.S. population respectively.
About 1.5 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions
in overcrowded or substandard housing.
How many homeless veterans are there?
Although accurate numbers are impossible to come by — no one keeps national records on homeless veterans — the VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every
three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country. According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999), veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America.
Why are veterans homeless?
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homeless, extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care. A number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
A top priority is secure, safe, clean housing, which offers a supportive environment that is free of drugs and alcohol.
While “most homeless people are single, unaffiliated men, most housing money is existing in federal homelessness programs. In contrast, is devoted to helping homeless families or homeless women with dependant children.” According to “Is Homeless a Housing Problem?” in (Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives, published by Fannie Mae Foundation in 1997).
Doesn’t the Department of Veteran Affairs take care of homeless veterans?
To a certain degree, yes. According to the VA’s specialized homeless programs served more than 92,000 veterans, however, who experience homelessness annually and must seek assistance from local government agencies and community- and faith-based service organizations. In its November 2007 “Vital Mission” report, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that up to about half a million veterans have characteristics that put them in danger
of homelessness. These veterans may require supportive services outside the scope of the VA homeless program. The years since it began responding to the special needs of homeless veterans, its homeless treatment and assistance network has developed into the nations largest provider of homeless services, service more 100,000 veterans annually.
With an estimated 260,000 veterans homeless at some time during the year, the VA reaches 100,000 of those in need, leaving 160,000 veterans who must seek assistance from local government agencies and service organizations in their communities.
Since 1987, the VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with community service providers to assist in expanding services to more veterans in crises. This partnership is credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans on any given day by more than forty percent since 2005. For more information about VA homeless veterans programs, go to http://www.va.gov/homeless/
What services do veterans need?
Veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing and nutritional meals, essential physical health care, substance abuse aftercare and mental health counseling, and personal development and empowerment. Veterans also need job assistance, training and placement assistance.
NCHV strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping veterans reach the point where they can obtain and sustain employment.
What seems to work best?
The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, “veterans helping veterans” groups. Programs that seem to work feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves. Because government money for homeless veterans is currently limited and serves only one in ten of those in need. It is critical that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted; housing, employment and healthcare.
There are about 250 community-based veteran organizations across the country that have demonstrated impressive success in reaching homeless veterans.
These groups are most successful when they work in collaboration with federal, state and local government agencies, other homeless providers, and veteran service organizations. Veterans who participate in these programs have a higher chance of becoming tax-paying, productive citizens again.