Who are homeless veterans?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 8% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 12% of the adult homeless population are veterans.
Roughly 40% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.
Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.
America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, 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.
About 1.4 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 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 57,849 veterans are homeless on any given night.
Approximately 12,700 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) were homeless in 2010. The number of young homeless veterans is increasing, but only constitutes 8.8% of the overall homeless veteran population.
Veteran homelessness in California is staggering. The federal department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 15,000 of the 58,000 homeless veterans in the United States live here in California.
Reports indicate that there are between 1,300-1,800 homeless Veterans in Monterey County alone. There may be twice that many at risk of becoming homeless in the next 1-3 months. This is only the number of homeless Veterans–and doesn’t include their spouses and children, who are not eligible for VA benefits. The Housing Resource Center (HRC) Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF) assists homeless Veterans AND their families.
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. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.
A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol.
Doesn’t the VA take care of homeless veterans?
To a certain extent, yes. Each year, VA’s specialized homelessness programs provide health care to almost 150,000 homeless veterans and other services to more than 112,000 veterans. Additionally, more than 40,000 homeless veterans receive compensation or pension benefits each month.
Since 1987, VA’s programs for homeless Veterans have emphasized collaboration with such community service providers such as HRC to help expand services to more veterans in crisis. The VA, using its own resources or in partnerships with others, has secured nearly 15,000 residential rehabilitative and transitional beds and more than 30,000 permanent beds for homeless veterans throughout the nation. These partnerships are credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by 70% since 2005.
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.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping them 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 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 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 that 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.
What can you do?
- Get involved! And involve others. If you are not already part of our organization, align yourself with a few other people who are interested addressing this issue.
- Make a donation to the Housing Resource Center of Monterey County, your local homeless veteran service provider.
- Contact your elected officials. Let them know that this issue is important to you, and to the health of our community. Discuss what is being done locally for homeless veterans.
More Facts about Homeless Veterans
What is the definition of “homeless”?
The United States Code contains the official federal definition of homelessness, which is commonly used because it controls federal funding streams. In Title 42, Chapter 119, Subchapter 1, “homeless” is defined as follows:
§11302. General definition of homeless individual
(a) In general……The term “homeless” or “homeless individual or homeless person” includes––
- an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
- an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is––
a. a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide
temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and
transitional housing for the mentally ill);
b. an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be
c. a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping
accommodation for human beings.”
Who is a eligible for SSVF services?
Eligibility for SSVF benefits is based upon having served one day of active dute and discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions.
Demographics of Homeless Veterans
- 12% of the homeless adult population are veterans
- 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
- 68% reside in principal cities
- 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
- 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
- 50% have serious mental illness
- 70% have substance abuse problems
- 51% are white males, compared to 38% of non-veterans
- 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans
This information was provided by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
Read more about the federal initiative to end veteran homelessness. Ending homelessness among veterans is also part of the federal government’s broader campaign to end homelessness in general, as outlined in Opening Doors.