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Veterans Day: Understanding Veterans Homelessness
November 5, 2009
Veterans Day is just around the corner and we at the Alliance are furiously working on issues related to veterans homelessness. There’s been some jabber about new numbers of homeless veterans, activity on the hill, proposed legislation – it can all be difficult to digest. So the Alliance's own intern - Grace Stubee - thought she’d shed a little light on the issue.
Veterans are over represented in the homeless population. In 2005, a report by the Homeless Research Institute concluded there were 194,254 veterans living on our nation’s streets on any given night. Not only that, but according to the same report, homeless veterans accounted for 26 percent of the total homeless population While veterans on the whole only represent 11% of the civilian population.
New data shows that the situation seems to have improved. The latest numbers – representing data collected in 2008 – suggest that there are now 131,000 homeless veterans accounting for about 20 percent of the overall homeless population. While that might seem like good news, the decrease is being largely attributed to methodology, and not a real decrease in the number of homeless veterans. This rings especially true when you consider that community counts of homeless veterans and the number of veterans served by VA medical centers has gone up.
The good news: This is not an inevitable problem plaguing our country.
Experience with promising community programs and evidence-based research has given us the know-how we need to address this problem to scale. We have been able to identify some of the pathways which lead people into homelessness, pathways which are alike for civilians and veterans, including: health issues, economic hardship, lack of affordable housing, and access to support networks.
Veterans also face a separate set of obstacles that increase their likelihood of falling into homelessness. Prolonged separation from traditional supports such as family and friends, and highly stressful training and occupational demands during service can deter a veterans self-esteem and communication skills. Furthermore veterans confront challenges associated with re-entry into civilian life, a transition that can be very jarring. All these challenges are compounded for the veterans returning home from our current conflicts given the depressed economy, high unemployment rates, and lack of jobs.
Today, the nations programs addressing veteran homelessness are effective but they lack funding and none are comprehensively based in prevention. Prevention based initiatives are required to fulfill the administration’s vow to end veteran homelessness within the next five years.
So how should we help our nation’s heroes? We, at the Alliance, have identified some initiatives that require immediate congressional action:
- Give the VA the authority to run larger scale homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing programs by passing the Zero Tolerance for Veteran Homelessness Act.
- Expand the VA’s Homeless Grant and Per Diem program which is currently underfunded and only meets about half of the identified demand.
- Continue to expand the HUD-VA Supportive Housing program, as supportive housing has been a proven strategy to end homelessness among veterans.
- Pass the Homes for Heroes Act in the Senate, ensuring that more veterans have better access to affordable housing.
We ask Congress to seize this opportunity today and end the era of homeless veterans. Please commit to embracing our returning soldiers with the support, honor, and dignity they deserve.