Homelessness is a critical problem that affects individuals from all walks of life. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a single night, more than 326,000 people (that is, six in ten people) experience homelessness in the United States. And amongst these numbers, 40,000 are veterans.
Although the U.S. Department Of Housing has been creating policies and infrastructures to cater to America’s homeless veterans and end homelessness, a lot still needs to be done to improve these dismal living conditions.
In this article, we will talk more about how the U.S. Veterans homeless programs work. We will also look at some of the risk factors that lead to Veteran homelessness and ways we can help our Veterans.
Who Are Veterans?
A Veteran is “a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Veterans are individuals who have served in the armed forces during wartime or peacetime. For example, someone who fought in World War II, the Vietnam war, the Korean War, Cold War, or even the Gulf War, they are considered veterans.
Veteran Housing Problems
The onus is on the government to provide adequate housing and support for all veterans, regardless of their service type or duration.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many Veterans face overcrowded or substandard housing conditions that can lead to homelessness. Others may have roommates who are not veterans, making it difficult to find adequate housing.
In addition, many Veterans are unable to find work after they leave the military. This can lead to financial difficulties and, ultimately, homelessness.
The statistics on Veteran homelessness are pretty alarming. Here are some of them:
- 13% 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 a severe 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.
These statistics reveal that homeless Veterans are more likely to have disabilities, mental illness, and substance abuse problems. This is why it is so essential for the government to provide adequate housing and support for all Veterans.
Reasons Why Veterans Become Homeless
There are several complex reasons why Veterans become homeless. Some of the most common factors include:
Lack Of Affordable Housing
A report shows that one in four housing markets has experienced surging numbers in rental rates and mortgage prices, and the Covid-19 pandemic aftermath worsened it. The most expensive places to live in currently are California, Hawaii, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York—with Honolulu taking the top spot.
Unfortunately, this puts a lot of pressure on low-income families and individuals, including Veterans. Many Veterans are unable to find affordable housing that meets their needs, which can lead to homelessness.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a mental health condition caused by exposure to traumatic events, such as combat. PTSD can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. It can also make it difficult for Veterans to hold down a job or keep a roof over their heads.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 11-20% of Veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD. In addition, about 12% of Gulf War Veterans have PTSD. These numbers reveal that many Veterans are struggling with mental health problems, and this can lead to homelessness.
Substance abuse is another major problem that can lead to Veteran homelessness. According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, about 70% of homeless veterans have substance abuse problems. This is often due to self-medication to cope with PTSD, depression, and other mental health conditions.
In addition, many veterans struggle with alcoholism. Veterans Affairs revealed that alcohol abuse is a significant problem among veterans. They report that about 22% of veterans who use their healthcare system have problems with alcohol abuse.
Unemployment Or Underemployment
Unemployment or underemployment is another top risk factor for veteran homelessness. In fact unemployment is a major cause of veteran homelessness. This is often due to a lack of job skills or experience.
In addition, many veterans are underemployed, which means they are working but not making enough money to cover their basic needs. This can often lead to financial instability and eventually homelessness.
Injuries from combat and other military-related activities can lead to physical disabilities. These injuries can make it difficult for veterans to find employment and housing. There are many programs in place to help veterans with physical disabilities, but more needs to be done to ensure that all veterans have access to these programs.
Limited Social Supportive Services
Many veterans don’t have a strong support system to fall back on when they leave the military. This can make it difficult for veterans to find housing and other necessary resources. In addition, many veterans struggle with mental health conditions that make it difficult to maintain social relationships.
These are just a few of the risk factors for veteran homelessness. It is clear that more needs to be done to support our homeless veterans, especially when it comes to housing and mental health care. When we don’t support our veterans, we are putting them at risk of becoming homeless.
Supportive Housing for Veterans Compared to Non-Veterans
The requirements of veterans and non-vets experiencing homelessness are not always the same. In 2004, the Interagency Council on Homelessness launched a research project entitled the Collaborative Initiative to Help End Chronic Homelessness (CICH). They looked at data from eleven sites across the United States for one year and compared 162 chronically homeless veterans to 388 chronically homeless non-veterans.
Both groups were enrolled in a federally sponsored housing program for one year, and several distinctions emerged. The first was that veterans were more likely to be from an older age group, identified as male, and have finished high school than the displaced individuals.
Both groups’ mental health improved as a result of the mental health services received, although veterans were found to utilize outpatient mental health services more often than non-veterans. Both groups also reduced the use of medical services once they obtained housing, suggesting that the program is effective in reducing clinical requirements among chronically homeless individuals in general.
VA Homeless Programs
Veterans who are homeless or on the verge of being homeless should seek assistance from the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4AID-VET (877-424-3838). If a Veteran does not have access to a phone or internet, they can go to their nearest VA medical center. However, it is preferred that they call in advance.
Veteran Affairs is committed to ending veteran homelessness. They have a number of programs and VA benefits available to help veterans who are struggling. Their focus is threefold
- Conducting coordinated outreach to proactively seek out Veterans in need of assistance.
- Connecting homeless and at-risk Veterans with the resources they need, including housing, health care, employment services, and more.
- Collaborating with federal, state, and local agencies, employers, community service providers, faith-based and community nonprofits, and others to increase employment and low-cost housing options for homeless veterans.
Across the United States, numerous initiatives and resources have been established to assist homeless veterans. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs’ HUD-VASH provides Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers to eligible homeless and disadvantaged U.S. Armed Forces veterans.
In addition to government-provided aid, private charities also provide assistance to homeless veterans. For example, some give out vehicles for homeless veterans to live in while others build permanent housing. There are also those who advocate for the rights of homeless vets by implementing policies and making recommendations. Throughout America, different organizations and agencies host “Stand Down” events from time to time where vendors offer goods or services; the first occurred in San Diego, led by Vietnam veterans back in 1988.
How To Aid Veterans
Despite the policies and structures put in place by the United States Government, there are still millions of homeless veterans in the country. We can do our part to help by donating to organizations that support homeless veterans, such as the Department Of Veterans Affairs or the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
Homeless veterans also need a comprehensive strategy that provides safe housing and nutritious food, as well as essential physical health care, substance abuse recovery, and mental health therapy. Asides from this, they also require job evaluation, training, and placement assistance. The NCHV believes that all homeless veteran services should prioritize assisting Vets in reaching the point where they can get and keep jobs.
And finally, we can spread awareness about veteran homelessness. Together, we can end veteran homelessness.