These are the most often asked questions regarding homeless and at-risk veterans. Information courtesy of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation’s homeless veterans are mostly males (4 % are females). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems.
America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Forty-seven percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than 67% served our country for at least three years and 33% were stationed in a war zone.
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.
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting 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 and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
A top priority is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment which is free of drugs and alcohol.
While “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,” according to “Is Homelessness a Housing Problem?” in Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives, published by Fannie Mae Foundation in 1997.
To a certain degree, yes. According to the VA, in the years since it “began responding to the special needs of homeless veterans, its homeless treatment and assistance network has developed into the nation’s largest provider of homeless services, serving more than 100,000 veterans annually.”
With an estimated 400,000 veterans homeless at some time during the year, the VA reaches 25% of those in need … leaving 300,000 veterans who must seek assistance from local government agencies and service organizations in their communities.
Since 1987, VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with community service providers to help expand services to more veterans in crisis. This partnership is credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans on any given day by nearly 25% over the last six years.
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 assessment, 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.
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. Because government money for homeless veterans is currently limited and serves only one in 10 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 health care.
There are about 250 community-based veteran organizations across the country that have demonstrated impressive success 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.
PL100-77 signed into law on July 22, 1987 known as the “McKinney Act” provided a definition of homelessness that is commonly used because it controls the federal funding streams.
Excerpt from PL100-77: Sec. 11302. General definition of homeless individual
For purposes of this chapter, the term ‘homeless’ or ‘homeless individual or homeless person’ includes –
(1) an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
(2) 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 institutionalized; or
(C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
In general, most organizations use the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) eligibility criteria to determine which veterans can access services. Eligibility for VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. Benefits vary according to factors connected with type and length of military service.
“The Forgotten Americans-Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve” — released Dec. 8, 1999, by the Interagency Council on the Homeless — is the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC), which was completed in 1996 and updated three years later.
Veteran Specific Highlights:
23% of the homeless population are veterans
33% of the male homeless population are veterans
47% Vietnam Era
67% served three or more years
33% stationed in a war zone
25% have used VA Homeless Services
85% completed high school/GED compared to 56% of non-veterans
89% received Honorable Discharge
79% reside in central cities
16% reside in suburban areas
5% reside in rural areas
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% white males compared to 34% non-veterans
46% age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans
45% help finding job
37% finding housing
Accurate numbers community-by-community are not available. Some communities do annual counts; others do an estimate based on a variety of factors. Contact the closest Department of Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center, Homeless Coordinator or the office of your mayor or other presiding government to get local information.
The Urban Institute, in conjunction with the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC) done in 1996, projected that: Each year, 2.3 million to 3.5 million people experience homelessness in America. By taking 23% of that range for veterans, that would indicate there are between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans who are homeless at some time during the year.