Most Often Asked Questions Concerning Homeless Veterans
Who are 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.
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 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.
Doesn’t the Department of Veterans Affairs take care of homeless veterans?
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. For more information about VA homeless veteran programs, go to 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 assessment, training and placement assistance.HOV 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 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.
What can you do?
- Determine the need in your community. Visit with homeless veteran providers. Contact your local mayor’s office for a list of providers.
- Involve others. If you are not already part of an organization, pull together a few people who might be interested in attacking this issue.
- Participate in local homeless coalitions. Chances are there is one in your community. If not, this may be the time to start bringing people together around this critical need.
- Send a financial donation to your local homeless veteran provider.
- Contact your elected officials, and discuss what is being done in your community for homeless veterans.