Who are homeless veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly five percent being female. The majority of them are single; come from urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About one-third of the adult homeless population, are veterans.


America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon,Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third 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 and 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 flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) estimate that over 67,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans.


Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. 

A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol.

Although, most homeless people are single, unaffiliated men… most housing money in existing federal homelessness programs, in contrast, is devoted to helping homeless families or homeless women with dependent children.


Doesn’t VA take care of homeless veterans?

To a certain extent, yes. VA’s specialized homeless programs served more than 92,000 veterans in 2009, which is highly commendable. This still leaves well over 100,000 more 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 most VA homeless programs.


Since 1987, VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with such community service providers to help expand services to more veterans in crisis. These partnerships are credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by more than half over the past six years


What services do veterans need?

Veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing, nutritional meals, basic physical health care, substance abuse care and aftercare, mental health counseling, personal development and empowerment. Additionally, veterans need job assessment, training and placement assistance.


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 best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves.


Government money, while important, is currently limited, and available services are often at capacity. It is critical, therefore, that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care. Veterans who participate in collaborative programs are afforded more services and have higher chances of becoming tax-paying, productive citizens again.


Why Veterans Become Homeless

Working in the military and serving abroad are basic defining essentials of national heroes who receive much respect from civilians in their country. And yet, there is a rising tide of Homelessness, at least for a period of time. Created by various factors, the numbers involved here are large enough to draw the attention of organisations such as the Department of Veterans Affair, and yet even they have the capacity if only reaching so many people. There are also certain noticeable factors among those who do become Homeless. 95% of these people tend to be single males. As time passes, more and more females are becoming homeless as well. In 2006, 150 female veterans were accounted for as homeless, and these numbers rose to 1700 within just a few years.


Almost 56% of these homeless veterans tend to come from either the African-American or Hispanic backgrounds. It is not as if a homeless veteran is any better off than a homeless non-veteran. Rather, sometimes they may actually be worse off. Almost 53% of homeless veterans have disabilities compared to 41% of homeless non-veteran. Homeless veterans also tend to spend more time as homeless, almost six years compared to four for their non-veteran counterparts. With having to pay more than half their income just on rent, more and more veterans are at a risk of becoming homeless with each passing day.


Factors Behind Homelessness In Veterans:


A study published in the American Journal of Public Health titled, ‘Risk Factors for Becoming Homeless Among a Cohort of Veterans Who Served in the area of the Iraq and Afghanistan Conflicts’, highlights some important factors regarding the situation. They discovered that between 310,685 veterans serving as soldiers between the years 2005-2006, there appeared an incident of five years where certain veterans became homeless. Such incidence of Homelessness was at 3.7%. Of course other factors are involved as well, with two primary reasons being low pay in the military along with pay hologram disorders stemming from time deployed. With more than 500,000 veterans becoming homeless at some point in the year, the Department of Veterans Affair has difficulties reaching out to everyone. Due to this, only about 25% of homeless veterans receive help from the government, while the others are left to fend for themselves. But what are some of the reasons behind why veterans become Homeless?


Economic Difficulties: Many of the people who become veterans at war are those who come from marginal sections of the society, which has is where they return after the war. Low pay in the military forces these people to live in substandard or extremely crowded housing. Even then they have to spend more than half their income on just rent. Such difficulties eventually see them turning to the streets.


Substance Abuse: Exacerbated by prior addiction or underlying mental health issues, addictions like alcohol or cocaine are rather expensive. A truly addicted individual would rather live on the streets and get their hit instead of living without these substances.


PTSD: It is extremely common for people who have been to war to suffer from PTSD. However, not everyone seeks treatment for it. Whether it is for financial difficulties, the desire to not let anyone find out that there is a psychological condition or just no treatment centres nearby. They live their daily lives crippled by the state of their own minds and find it difficult to adjust to life.


Deliberate Social Alienation: There are many veterans who after returning to society deliberately chose to stay away from near and dear ones. While the reasons behind such decision making are very complex, these people are nonetheless left without a social network to depend on should they need someone to fall back on.


Homelessness is not a proper state of life to be in and not conducive to healthy standards of living. With more and more inititutive  designed to bring the veteran back into homes, the fight for survival for many veterans do not end just after the war.