According to Green Doors- a homelessness relief organization- there are approximately 76,000 veterans who are forced to sleep on the streets every night across the country. In fact, 17 percent of the population that experiences homelessness are veterans, who are 50 percent more likely to endure homelessness than any other American. Veterans are more likely to experience homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and discouraging living conditions such as overcrowded or inadequate housing. Currently, a shocking 1.5 million veterans are considered at-risk for undergoing homelessness. It is our duty to support our veterans and prevent them from experiencing homelessness after they have served our country.
Veterans have had a long history of experiencing homelessness after completing their military service. Research has shown that most veterans enduring homelessness are single men from poor communities who joined the military in hopes of escaping their circumstances; however, after completing their military service, they ended up with nowhere to go. Since the military often recruits young people in lower income neighborhoods, the average age of veterans who suffer from homelessness are between the ages of 18 and 30. Additionally, half of the veterans experiencing homelessness are ethnic minorities. Because of the harsh conditions of the military, half of the veterans experiencing homelessness are disabled and half suffer from mental illness, two thirds have substance abuse problems, and many suffer from both. Veterans who experience homelessness do so for longer time periods than those who are not veterans because of their disabilities and mental illness. One average, veterans spend around 2 more years experiencing homelessness than non-veterans.
While these statistics seem daunting, there is still hope. Thankfully, there are programs that are bringing these numbers down. There used to be an increased risk of veterans experiencing homelessness, but that is not as common today. From 2010 to 2019, America’s population of veterans experiencing homeless was cut almost in half; this sudden drop is connected to programs such as Housing First and HUD-VASH. These programs help those suffering from homelessness find permanent housing, provide rental assistance and help to veterans who are suffering from homelessness, and help find and preserve permanent housing. These programs have helped veterans enduring homelessness from around the country receive homes. By HUD-VASH using Housing First strategies, housing placement wait times were reduced from 223 to 35 days, which helped veterans enduring homelessness keep their new home and decreased their trips to the emergency room. Moses (2020) stated, “Veterans of color have the highest likelihood of enduring homelessness.” However, black veterans experienced the biggest drop in experiencing homelessness by 26 percent in the last 5 years. Older veterans, including those with disabilities, had the hardest time being employed during the pandemic. But hopefully the combination of Housing First and government investments can help them find housing and support.
In Cleveland, Ohio, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs are working together to give veterans support after the pandemic. According to Jarvis’ (2020) article, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran named William Tegue, whose life was affected by substance abuse, turned to the HUD-VASH program at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center. He recently got a new apartment and stated, “I got a place of my own that I can live and do the things that I need to do to keep living a normal life.” Barbara Karam, the coordinator of the HUD-VASH program at the Louis Stokes VA expressed, “We work to house as many homeless Veterans as we can as quickly as we can, and then continue to provide them case management based on the goals that they set for themselves.” The HUD gives housing subsidies to each veteran in the program depending on their income and then the V.A. staff members work with Veterans to find housing. Staff members even drove Veterans to meet the landlords and during the pandemic helped them with virtual tours. Between October 2019 and April 2020 HUD-VASH in Northeast Ohio found homes for 145 veterans.
How can you support Veterans who are experiencing homelessness? The U.S. Department of Affairs lists 10 key ways to help: expand access to affordable housing, integrate housing efforts, aid Veterans in handling housing options, gather and donate household items, support move-in costs, advocate for Veteran employment, share legal services advice, develop transportation options, participate in outreach events like Stand Down, and give your input on a planning process called CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups). Stand Downs are outreach events in which Veterans can receive access to immediate services and VA health care benefits. CHALENG is an ongoing assessment that unites homeless service providers, advocates, Veterans and citizens to identify and meet the needs of Veterans who are experiencing homelessness. On January 2nd, 2015 New Orleans became the first city to accomplish a practical end to Veterans experiencing homelessness by pairing Veterans with housing navigators, so these efforts are successful.
If you know or are a Veteran experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homeless you should contact the National Call Center for veterans who are enduring homelessness at (877) 4AID-VET (877-424-3838) for support. If you do not have a phone or access to the internet you can visit the closest VA medical center without letting the center know beforehand. Veterans are an imperative and honorable part of our community and need to be treated with kindness and respect, especially those who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk for experiencing homelessness. We need to keep up the effort and hopefully one day Veterans who suffer from homelessness will be obsolete.