What you should know
- The vast majority of homeless veterans (96%) are single males from poor, disadvantaged communities. Homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America.
- The number of homeless female veterans is on the rise: in 2006, there were 150 homeless female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; in 2011, there were 1,700. That same year, 18% of homeless veterans assisted by the VA were women. Comparison studies conducted by HUD show that female veterans are two to three times more likely to be homeless than any other group in the US adult population.
- Veterans between the ages of 18 and 30 are twice as likely as adults in the general population to be homeless, and the risk of homelessness increases significantly among young veterans who are poor.
- Roughly 56% of all homeless veterans are African-American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 12.8% and 15.4% of the U.S. population respectively.
- About 53% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities, compared with 41%of homeless non-veteran individuals.
- Half suffer from mental illness; two-thirds suffer from substance abuse problems; and many from dual diagnosis (which is defined as a person struggling with both mental illness and a substance abuse problem).
- Homeless veterans tend to experience homelessness longer than their non-veteran peers: Veterans spend an average of nearly six years homeless, compared to four years reported among non-veterans.
How many veterans are homeless?
While only 8% of Americans can claim veteran status, 17% of our homeless population is made up of veterans. In 2010, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) estimated that on any given night there were 76,000 homeless veterans sleeping on American streets. Today, that number is closer to 50,000.
What is the primary cause of veteran homelessness?
Veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
- About 1.5 million veterans are considered at-risk of homelessness. At risk is defined as being below the poverty level and paying more than 50% of household income on rent. It also includes households with a member who has a disability, a person living alone, and those who are not in the labor force.
- Research shows that the greatest risk factors for homelessness are lack of support and social isolation after discharge. Veterans have low marriage rates and high divorce rates; and, currently, 1 in 5 veterans is living alone. Social networks are particularly important for those who have a crisis or need temporary help. Without this assistance, they are at high risk for homelessness.
- Nearly half a million (467,877) veterans are severely rent burdened and paying more than 50% of their income for rent. More than half (55%) of veterans with severe housing cost burden fell below the poverty level and 43% receive food stamps.
- Approximately 45% of the 1.6 million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking disability compensation. The average wait to get a disability claim processed is now eight months. Payments range from $127/month for a 10% disability to $2,769 for a full disability.
Doesn’t the Department of Veterans Affairs take care of homeless veterans?
Yes, they do. But the problem of homelessness among veterans is a big one. The VA served more than 92,000 homeless veterans in 2009. With an estimated 500,000 veterans homeless at some time during the year, the VA reaches 20% of those in need, leaving 400,000 veterans without supportive services.
Since 1987, the VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with community service providers like Green Doors to help expand services to more homeless veterans. For more information about VA homeless veteran programs, go to www.va.gov/homeless.
- “Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans,” The Homelessness Research Institute at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Nov. 2007.
- “Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education And Networking Group (CHALENG) For Veterans. The Fourteenth Annual Progress Report On Public Law 105-114. Services For Homeless Veterans Assessment And Coordination.” February 28, 2008.
- “Is Homelessness a Housing Problem?” Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives. Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997.
- National Survey of Homeless Veterans in 100,000 Homes Campaign Communities, 100,000 Homes, November 2011.
- Veteran Homelessness: A supplemental Report to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 2009
- The Center for American Progress
- Sandy Leeds, lecturer, the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.