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 post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 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, the amount of 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. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) suggests that the most effective programs are “community-based, nonprofit, ‘veterans helping veterans’ groups”. However, it is critical for community groups and concerned individuals to reach out to help provide veterans with support as well. NCHV 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?
- National Coalition for the Homeless - Medicaid Expansion
- National Coalition for the Homeless - Veteran Homelessness Fact Sheet (2009)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) - The 2016 Annual Point-in-time Estimate of Homelessness
- Library Index - The Health of the Homeless: Substance Abuse
- National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Inc - Premature Mortality in Homeless Populations: A Review of the Literature
- BC’s Mental Health and Addictions Journal - Substance Use: Pathways to Homelessness? Or a Way of Adapting to Street Life?
- National Institute of Mental Health - Statistics
- United States Conference of Mayors' 2016 Report on Hunger and Homelessness
Make the Connection connects Veterans, their families and friends, and other supporters to mental health information, a tool for finding local mental health resources, and videos of Veterans sharing their inspiring stories of recovery. The site is free to use and accessible to everyone.