African American Homeless Veterans

written by naehblog
July 1, 2010

Today’s guest blog comes from Ron Armstead, Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Veterans Braintrust.

At a workshop that Ron organized for the National Coalition on Homeless Veterans, I had the honor of presenting data that show that African Americans are overrepresented among the homeless veteran population. As illustrated in the Alliance’s most recent report on homelessness among veterans, while African American veterans make up 10 – 11 percent of the veteran population, they make up 45 percent of the homeless veteran population.

As I was pulling together my slides for this presentation, I was struck by following from the HUD’s fifth Annual Homeless Assessment Report:

“When compared to their counterparts nationwide, homeless people are much more likely to be adult males, African Americans, non-elderly, alone, veterans and disabled.”


For more than two decades the homeless veteran’s population has been a scar on the face of America. The Heroes Today, Homeless Tomorrow Report (1991), set the stage, or tone at the national public policy level for dialogue. Yet little inside, or outside the national debate has focused on why African American veterans are continually disproportionately represented. Early Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust issues forums convened in 1992, and in 1993, in which deceased VA Secretary Jesse Brown (1992) testified, revealed that of the estimated 250,000 single male veterans who were homeless nationally, 40% were Black, or African American. The currently available literature does not reveal, nor does it provide meaningful explanations on this phenomenon. However, striking and overlapping seminal reports of the post Vietnam era Forgotten Warrior Project (1976), Legacies of Vietnam Study (1981), and National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (1984) all link black military enlistments with the quest for jobs, training, education and economic advantage. Thus, suggesting that today’s overwhelmingly male and disproportionately black homeless veteran’s population are worse off than before the Vietnam Conflict. There is a clear commitment according to new VA Secretary Eric Shinseki & Four Star U.S. Army General (Ret.) to end homelessness among veterans. Yet numerous professionals, practitioners, and advocates argue you can’t solve the homeless veterans problem unless you better understand why African American veterans are continually overrepresented among the homeless population factually! Despite, the overall reduction in homelessness from 195,000 homeless veterans six years ago.

In the words of Secretary Shinseki veterans’ lead the nation in homelessness, depression, substance abuse, suicides, and they rank up there in joblessness, as well. Approximately one half of homeless veterans are African America. While current estimates are that 131,000 veterans live on the streets of this the wealthiest and most powerful Nation in the world. More importantly, President Obama and the VA are committed to ending homelessness among veterans over the next five years.

Lessons Learned:

1)One of the most obvious lessons learned is that there is a common perception among minority veterans that they are not being provided equal services by the VA system as reported by the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans Report in 2008.

2)The failure to redress, or adequately explain why significant differences exist in homeless rates between black and white veterans, has dire consequences for vulnerable black families and communities with fewer resources, or assets. For example, fatherlessness, family poverty, and community violence.

3)The rigorous pursue or examination of cause and effect relationships, or factors from an environmental perspective (not individual vulnerability) by VA and community based participatory research partners sensitive to the racial, ethnic, gender and class nuisances of vulnerable poor, black and/or communities with fewer resources, or assets is lacking.

4)Black veterans were still generally found to have higher nonemployment rates (nonemployment refers to individuals unable to find work, but still are searching for employment…) than white veterans, reflecting dominant national employment trends. (Greenberg & Rosenheck, 2007)

5)Blacks & Hispanics disproportionately suffer from serious labor market problems. This occurs despite gains in average educational attainment and increased representation in higher-paying occupations among these groups. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than Whites or Asians to be unemployed. When employed, Black and Hispanics are much more likely than Whites or Asians to be working in lower-paying occupations. Some factors include, but are not limited to: their lower average levels of schooling; their tendency to be employed in occupations that are subject to higher rates of unemployment; their greater concentration in the central cities of our urban areas, where job opportunities may be relatively limited; and the likelihood that they experience discrimination in the workplace. (Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2007)


One conclusion is that no systemic review and/or meta-analysis of homeless veteran’s scientific journal literature and no reports focusing on the disproportionate nature of African American homeless veterans have been published since Heroes Today, Homeless Tomorrow, 1991. Which either directly, or indirectly focus on black homeless veterans’ urban prevalence and incidence, or severity currently exist. For example, geographical distribution, risk factors, protective factors, utilization rates of homeless services, health status, mental health illnesses, substance abuse, employment considerations, poverty, housing, race and culture data. Also there are no cross-cutting studies from the VA healthcare system disciplines of psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing, readjustment counseling, vocational rehabilitation, etc. The objective of such a review, analysis and/or comparisons would be (1) determine in which urban areas veterans status, race, ethnicity and homelessness predominate; (b) describe why there is disproportionate homelessness in predominantly urban areas of the country; and (c) qualitatively synthesize the existing knowledge to determine the best approaches for future national homelessness reduction efforts aimed at enhancing VA health equity, community development, neighborhood revitalization and family stabilization.