How Many Homeless Veterans Are There?
Unless otherwise noted, the data in this article came from: “Ending Homelessness Among Veterans Through Permanent Supportive Housing”
The most recent estimate of the number of homeless veterans comes from the FY2005 report of the Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) for Veterans.
CHaling reports that the number of homeless veterans counted during the point in time count was 195,254.
The VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans may be homeless on any given night and 400,000 veterans experience homelessness during a year.
The National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (updated in 1999) found that 23% of all homeless clients and 33% of homeless men are veterans. Compare that to the 2000 Census that estimates 12.7% of the general population are veterans. Veterans are 2 to 3 times as likely to be homeless than the general population.
Characteristics of Homeless Veterans
• 45% suffer from mental illness
• 50% have substance abuse problems
• 67% served three or more years
• 33% were stationed in a war zone
• 25% have used VA Homeless Services
• 89% received an honorable discharge
Homeless Veterans vs. Non-Veterans
Homeless male veterans are more likely to be chronically homeless than homeless male non-veterans. “32 percent of homeless male veterans report that their last homeless episode lasted 13 or more months, compared to 17 percent of male nonveterans.”
They are also more likely to abuse alcohol than homeless non-veterans.
Homeless veterans are better educated than homeless non-veterans, less likely to have never married, and more likely to be working for pay.
Why Do Veterans Go Homelessness?
A study of Vietnam-era veterans by Rosenheck and Fontana demonstrated that the two factors with the greatest effect on homelessness were 1) (lack of) support in the year after discharge from military service and 2) social isolation.
This is consistent with the results of a study by Tessler and Rosenheck which showed that homeless veterans experiencing the longest current episodes of homelessness were those who also had “behavioral risk factors with possible early onset, and those who were lacking in social bonds to civilian society that are normally conferred by employment, marriage, and support from family of origin.”
Veterans Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
Initial data indicates rates of mental health disorders that could surpass those seen among Vietnam Veterans. A study by Charles Hoge et al found that:
19 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq screened positive for a potential mental health disorder, including PTSD compared with 11 percent for veterans of the war in Afghanistan. National Guard soldiers, one study found, were about 2 percentage points more likely to experience problems.
This is particularly distressing when coupled with the fact that among veterans “whose responses were positive for a mental disorder, only 23 to 40 percent sought mental health care” and the GAO finding that the “[Department of Defense] cannot provide reasonable assurance that OEF/OIF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom) servicemembers who need referrals receive them.”
Homeless Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan
Although many Vietnam veterans did not experience homelessness until 10-15 years after they left the service, homeless service providers are seeing veterans of OEF/OIF already. Social workers fear that “the trickle of stunned soldiers returning from Baghdad and Kabul has the potential to become a tragic tide.” Homeless OEF/OIF veterans themselves are saying “they [are] surprised how quickly they slid into the streets.”
Hypotheses for this quicker descent into homelessness include a tighter housing market than existed during the Vietnam era and a higher percentage of troops exposed to trauma during their service.