Veterans experience a distinct set of challenges, both during service and upon their return, which preset obstacles when trying to tackle veteran homelessness. Amongst veterans there are high rates of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma which can lead to higher risks of homelessness. Additionally, many veterans are considered at risk of homelessness because of poverty, lack of support from family and friends, substance use or mental health issues, and precarious living conditions.
Approximately 144,000 veterans are homeless on any given night according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Within this number, female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans experiencing homelessness is increasing, as is the number who have dependent children. In response to this, the Unites States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) has made ending homelessness for Veterans a priority for the next five years with a five-point strategy that includes:
- Providing Affordable Housing
- Providing Permanent Supportive Housing
- Increasing Meaningful and Sustainable Employment
- Reducing Financial Vulnerability
- Transforming Homeless Services to Crisis Response Systems
Additionally, the VA’s Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program is offered annually to fund community-based agencies providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless veterans. The VA also funds temporary housing, including:
- Shelter and two-year transitional housing through the grant and per diem program
- Long-term care through the Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans Program
- Skills programs such as the Compensated Work Therapy/Veterans Industries Program
While essential, these programs do not meet the current existing need. For example, the Grant and Per Diem Program only funds 8,000 beds.
There is some evidence that programs which recognize and acknowledge veteran experiences may be more successful in helping homeless veterans transition into stable housing, with advocacy organizations suggesting the most effective programs are “community-based, nonprofit, ‘veterans helping veterans’ groups” [NCHV, Background and Statistics]. It is critical for community groups and concerned individuals to reach out to help provide veterans with support as well. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans suggests advocating for homeless veterans by:
- Donating personal care items, food, or cash contributions to emergency shelters
- Volunteering as a mentor, counselor, or legal aid to veterans in transitional or supportive permanent housing
- Raising funds for faith-based organizations, civic or business groups, schools, and veterans service organizations
- Volunteering time or resources at a Stand Down event
- Stand Down events are a tailored approach between the VA and community-based organizations targeting homeless veterans through outreach and partnership programs is needed while we continue to prioritize the general crisis of homelessness through prevention and rapid re-housing initiatives.
- Advocating for Medicaid Expansion
- Medicaid provides the consistent health coverage needed to prevent and treat the health issues of individuals experiencing homelessness.
- Reliable coverage through Medicaid will improve financial security, stabilize health, and help prevent and reduce homelessness.
- The expansion of Medicaid will improve state budgets and lower health costs with savings on uncompensated care and reduced spending on hospitalization and criminal justice for individuals with severe behavioral health needs.
NCH works to promote the comprehensive and integrated treatment needs of homeless persons within the context of health reform and we support effective implementation of Medicaid expansion for people living in or near poverty.
Fact Sheets and Publications:
- National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC): Homelessness and Health – What’s the Connection?, January 2010. (pdf)
- National Health Care for the Homeless Council: Medicaid Expansion Position Paper, January 2013
- Veteran Homelessness Fact Sheet (2009)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (2011). The 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. Washington, DC. [2010 AHAR]
- Library Index. “The Health of the Homeless – Substance Abuse.” 2009 • O’Connell, J.J. “Premature Mortality in Homeless Populations: A Review of the Literature.” 19 pages. Nashville: National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Inc., 2005.
- Didenko, E. and Pankratz, N. 2007. “Substance Use: Pathways to homelessness? Or a way of adapting to street life?” Visions: BC’s Mental Health and Addictions Journal, 4(1), 9-10.
- National Institute of Mental Health. “Statistics.” March 2009.
- United States Conference of Mayors. “Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities.” 2011. (pdf)
- Whitbeck, Les B. Mental health and Emerging Adulthood among Homeless Young People. 2009. Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 270 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016.