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Who are homeless veterans?

Homeless veterans are 98% male. The vast majority are single and come from poor, disadvantaged communities. 45% suffer from mental illness and half have substance abuse problems (Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs).

America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. 47% of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than 67% served our country for at least three years and 33% were stationed in a war zone.

How many homeless veterans are there?

Although accurate numbers are impossible to come by (no one keeps national records on homeless veterans), the VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and more than 500,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year.

Conservatively, one out of every three homeless males who is sleeping in a doorway, alley, or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served our country.

Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homelessness - shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to healthcare - a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.

A top priority is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment which is free of drugs and alcohol.

While "most homeless people are single, unaffiliated men … most housing money in existing federal homelessness programs, in contrast, is devoted to helping homeless families or homeless women with dependant children," according to "Is Homelessness a Housing Problem?." (Source: Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives, Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997)

Doesn’t Veterans Affairs take care of homeless veterans?

To a certain degree, yes. According to the VA, in the years since it "began responding to the special needs of homeless veterans, its homeless treatment and assistance network has developed into the nation’s largest provider of homeless services, serving more than 100,000 veterans annually."

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, VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with community service providers to help expand services to more homeless veterans. For more information about VA homeless veteran programs, go to www.va.gov/homeless/.

What services do veterans need?

Veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing and nutritional meals; essential physical health care, substance abuse aftercare and mental health counseling; and personal development and empowerment. Veterans also need job assessment, training and placement assistance.

NCHV strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping veterans reach the point where they can obtain and sustain employment.

What seems to work best?

The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, "veterans helping veterans" groups. Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves. Because government money for homeless veterans is currently limited and serves only one in 10 of those in need, it is critical that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care.

There are about 200 community-based veteran organizations across the country that have demonstrated impressive success reaching homeless veterans. These groups are most successful when they work in collaboration with Federal, State, and local government agencies, other homeless providers, and veteran service organizations. Veterans who participate in these programs have a higher chance of becoming tax-paying, productive citizens again.

What defines a homeless person?

PL100-77 signed into law on July 22, 1987 known as the "McKinney Act" provided a definition of homelessness that is commonly used because it controls the federal funding streams.

Excerpt from PL100-77 Sec. 11302, "General definition of homeless individual':

For purposes of this chapter, the term 'homeless' or 'homeless individual or homeless person' includes:
(1) an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and (2) an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is (a) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill); (b) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or (c) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Who is a veteran?

In general, most organizations use the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) eligibility criteria to determine which veterans can access services. Eligibility for VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. To see details of eligibility criteria for VA compensation and benefits, view the current benefits manual at: http://www1.va.gov/opa/feature/

Demographics of homeless veterans

"The Forgotten Americans-Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve" -- released Dec. 8, 1999, by the Interagency Council on the Homeless -- is the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC), which was completed in 1996 and updated three years later. You can visit www.huduser.org and download the NSHAPC reports from there.

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