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Homeless Veterans

NCH Fact Sheet #14
Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, June 2008

This fact sheet examines homelessness among U.S. veterans. A list of resources for further study is also provided.

BACKGROUND

Approximately 40% of homeless men are veterans, although veterans comprise only 34% of the general adult male population. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that on any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless, and 400,000 veterans will experience homelessness during the course of a year (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 2006). 97% of those homeless veterans will be male (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2008).  The National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients reports that veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America  (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999).

Despite the overrepresentation of veterans in the homeless population, homelessness among veterans is not clearly related to combat military experience. Rather, studies show that homeless veterans appear less likely to have served in combat than housed veterans (Rosenheck, 1996).

Similarly, despite the widespread perception that Vietnam-era veterans constitute the majority of homeless veterans, research indicates that the veterans who are at greatest risk of homelessness are those who served during the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era (Rosenheck, 1996). These veterans had little exposure to combat, but appear to have increased rates of mental illness and addiction disorders, possibly due to recruitment patterns. Faced with a lack of affordable housing, declining job opportunities, and stagnating wages (see "Why are People Homeless?," NCH Fact Sheet #1), people with these disabilities are more vulnerable to homelessness.

DEMOGRAPHICS

Homeless veterans are more likely to be white, better educated, and previously or currently married than homeless non-veterans (Rosenheck, 1996).

Female homeless veterans represent an estimated 3% of homeless veterans. They are more likely than male homeless veterans to be married and to suffer serious psychiatric illness, but less likely to be employed and to suffer from addiction disorders. Comparisons of homeless female veterans and other homeless women have found no differences in rates of mental illness or addictions.

Minorities are overrepresented among homeless veterans (56% are African-American or Hispanic), just as they are among the homeless population in general. However, there is some evidence that veteran status reduces vulnerability to homelessness among Black Americans. Black non-veterans are 2.9 times more likely to be homeless than white non-veterans.  Black veterans, on the other hand, are 1.4 times more likely to be homeless than white veterans (Rosenheck, 1996). The reduced risk of homelessness among Black American veterans is most likely the result of educational and other benefits to which veterans are entitled, and thereby provides indirect evidence of the ability of government assistance to reduce homelessness.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), the majority of homeless veterans are single, and most come from poor, disadvantaged communities. 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems.

PROGRAMS AND POLICY ISSUES

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) administers a number of programs for homeless veterans: the Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans program (DCHV) and the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program (HCHV) are two of the oldest. Both programs provide outreach, psychosocial assessments, referrals, residential treatments, and follow-up case management to homeless veterans. Past evaluations have found that these programs significantly improve homeless veterans' housing, psychiatric status, employment, and access to health services (Friesman et al., 1996; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1995). In addition, the VA has initiated several new programs for homeless veterans and has expanded partnerships with public, private, and non-profit organizations to expand the range of services for homeless veterans (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1997). Below is a survey of VA partnership programs (more information is available through the Veterans Affairs website - http://www1.va.gov/homeless/page.cfm?pg=2) :

VA's Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program -

The Grant and Per Diem program is offered annually (as funding permits) by the VA to fund community-based agencies (up to 65% of a given project) providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless veterans.

Veterans Industries -

In VA's Compensated Work Therapy/Transitional Residence (CWT/TR) Program, disadvantaged, at-risk, and homeless veterans live in supervised group homes while working for pay in VA's Compensated Work Therapy Program (also known as Veterans Industries). Veterans in the CWT/TR program work about 33 hours per week, with approximate earnings of $732 per month, and pay an average of $186 per month toward maintenance and up-keep of the residence. The average length of stay is about 174 days. VA contracts with private industry and the public sector for work done by these veterans, who learn new job skills, relearn successful work habits, and regain a sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

Supported Housing -

Like the HUD-VASH program, staff in VA's Supported Housing Program provides ongoing case management services to homeless veterans. Emphasis is placed on helping veterans find permanent housing and providing clinical support needed to keep veterans in permanent housing. Staff in these programs operate without benefit of the specially dedicated Section 8 housing vouchers available in the HUD-VASH program but are often successful in locating transitional or permanent housing through local means, especially by collaborating with Veterans Service Organizations.

In addition, the VA extends loans, funds Veterans Benefits Counselors, and operates drop-in centers where veterans can clean up and receive therapeutic treatment during the day.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that the VA serves about 25% of veterans in need – a figure that would leave approximately 300,000 veterans each year to seek assistance from local government agencies and voluntary organizations.

In 1995, the VA conducted a national survey of VA homeless programs and community organizations to identify needs of homeless veterans. The survey found that long-term permanent housing, dental care, eye care, and childcare were the greatest unmet needs of homeless veterans (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1995). Similarly, participants in a National Summit on Homelessness Among Veterans sponsored by the VA identified the top priority areas as jobs, preventing homelessness, housing, and substance abuse/mental health treatment (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1997).

In general, the needs of homeless veterans do not differ from those of other homeless people. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans suggests the most effective programs are “community-based, nonprofit, "veterans helping veterans" groups” (NCHV “Background and Statistics”). However there is some evidence that programs which recognize and acknowledge veteran experience may be more successful in helping homeless veterans transition into stable housing. Until serious efforts are made to address the underlying causes of homelessness, including inadequate wages, lack of affordable housing, and lack of accessible, affordable health care, the tragedy of homelessness among both veterans and non-veterans will continue to plague American communities.

REFERENCES AND RESOURCES

Alker, Joan. Heroes Today, Homeless Tomorrow? Homelessness Among Veterans in the United States, 1991. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St. NW, Washington, DC 20037; 202/462-4822..
Applewhite, Steven Lozano. "Homeless Veterans: Perspectives on Social Services Use," in Social Work, 42 (January 1997) 1:19-30. Available, free, from the National Association of Social Workers, 750 1st St., NE, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20002-4241; 202/408-8600, ext. 377.
Friesman, Linda et al. Health Care for Homeless Veterans Programs: The Ninth Annual Report, 1996. Available, free, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Northeast Evaluation Center/182, VA Medical Center, West Haven, CT 06516; 203/937-3850.
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Providing reasonable estimates of Homeless Veterans in America On Any Given Night in May, 1994, 1994. Available, free, from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 333-1/2 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20003-1148. Phone: 800-838-4357.
Rosenheck, Robert et al. "Homeless Veterans," in Homelessness in America, 1996. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St. NW, Washington, DC 20037; 202/462-4822.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Heading Home: Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness Among America's Veterans: A Post-Summit Action Report and Resource Directory, 1997. Available, free, from the Homeless Initiatives Office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (10-C-5), 810 Vermont Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20420; 202/273-6284.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Services for Homeless Veterans: Assessment and Coordination. Second Annual Progress Report on Public Law 102-405, Section 107; Public Law 103-446, Section 1002, 1995. Available, free, CHALENG for Veterans, Carl Vinson VA Medical Center (00A), Dublin, GA 31021; 912/277-2795.
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National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 333-1/2 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20003-1148. Phone: 800-838-4357; Fax: 888-233-8582; Email: nchv@nchv.org
HUDVET. Established by HUD's Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD) in consultation with national veteran service organizations, HUDVET is a Veteran Resource Center designed to provide veterans and their family members with information on HUD's community-based programs and services. HUDVET may be reached at 1-800-998-9999 (TDD 1-800-483-2209).