This Veterans’ Day, it will be a cold night in most parts of the country, and especially cold for the homeless. On any given night in the US, more than 578,000 children and adults are homeless, including 31 percent who were not in shelters. Homelessness among military veterans is troubling. Nationally, 11 percent of homeless adults are veterans. These figures and many others appear in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR). It was released last month.
AHAR provides estimates of homeless veterans in each state, such as 108 homeless veterans in the lesser populated state of Rhode Island, to more than 12,000 in California. Compared to 11 percent nationally, South Dakota and Wyoming have the highest proportion of homeless adults who are veterans, 21 and 20 percent, respectively. The report indicates that in most states homeless veterans were typically in shelters, however, in five states, the majority of homeless veterans were living in unsheltered locations: MT (63%), CA (63%), NV (60%), HI (58%) and GA (55%). Unsheltered locations refers living on the street, in abandoned buildings, vehicles or parks.
A 2012 report by the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs provides key data about and explained key risk factors for veterans becoming homeless.
- “Veterans who experienced homelessness after military separation were younger, enlisted with lower pay grades, and more likely to be diagnosed with mental disorders and/or traumatic brain injury at the time of separation from active duty.”
- “Substance-related disorders and/or mental illness is the strongest predictor of becoming homeless after discharge from active duty.”
With respect to veterans who were involved in “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF) and “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (OIF):
- Forty-eight percent of newly homeless males and 67 percent of newly homeless females had been diagnosed with some mental disorder prior to discharge from active duty.
- Homeless veterans, especially women, had received disproportionally higher military sexual trauma-related treatment (before becoming homeless) than their counterparts who were not homeless.
- “Homeless veterans were more likely to receive compensation for service-connected disabilities and have higher disability ratings.”
Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced in November 2009 a plan to end homelessness among veterans in 2015. At the time, the number of affected veterans totaled nearly 75,000. In fiscal year 2014 alone, the VA committed over $1 billion in programs directed at the problem.
Since 2010, the number of homeless veterans has declined by 33 percent. Progress has been made, but 33 percent isn’t 100 percent, it isn’t even half-way to the goal. If the plan really is to end homelessness among veterans in 2015, there’s a heck of a lot still to be done.