Combat injuries, substance use, and mental illness are just some of the barriers standing in the way of veterans finding homes. Here's what you should know.
Veterans are especially vulnerable to homelessness. Although our former service members make up just 7 percent of the United States population, they account for 13 percent of homeless adults.
Why are so many veterans homeless?
The rising cost of housing has priced many veterans out of the market. This group faces many challenges that prevent them from earning enough money to make home ownership or rent affordable.
One barrier to employment is the difficulty of transitioning from the military into the civilian job market. Another is the injuries that many veterans sustained while serving.
More than 40 percent of post 9/11 veterans has a service-related disability that may limit their ability to work or prevent them from holding a job, such as
Alcohol and substance abuse and mental illness put housing even further out of reach for veterans. Those same issues distance service members from the family members who might otherwise offer them a place to live.
Female veterans make up a smaller segment of the homeless population, but they face a separate set of barriers to finding housing, including intimate partner violence and sexual trauma. Often these women have children, which makes finding housing even more urgent and difficult for them.
Housing benefits are available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but anyone who received an other-than-honorable or dishonorable discharge may not qualify to access them.
A study in JAMA found that veterans who were discharged for misconduct, such as drugs, alcohol, or an infraction of military codes, had much higher rates of homelessness than those who were honorably discharged.
What can we do about the problem?
We have made some progress when it comes to providing housing for our veterans. The rate of homelessness among this population has dropped by 45 percent since 2009, in large part due to investments in veterans housing programs from the VA.
In 2009, the VA established the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, which researches solutions for veterans who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness.
The VA also set up a National Call Center. Veterans and their families can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to get free counseling and learn about programs to help them find housing.
The VA has also addressed the unique needs of veterans with substance use or mental health issues. To qualify for most traditional housing options in the past, veterans needed to be sober or taking part in a treatment program. The Housing First program provides government-funded permanent housing to veterans with mental health or substance use disorders, with no conditions.
What you can do
A variety of programs and support services are available to help homeless veterans.
If you’re a veteran in need of housing, you can:
- Call the National Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-4-AID-VET (877-424-3838) or contact your local VA Medical Center.
- Reach out to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Visit VA Homeless Programs to learn about the services that are available to you.
If you’re interested in supporting the homeless, you can:
- Contribute to a nonprofit organization like the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans or National Veterans Homeless Support.
- Donate cash or personal items (such as clothing and toiletries) to an emergency shelter.
- Volunteer in a homeless shelter, teaching employment skills (like resume writing and interview techniques) or basic life and financial skills.
- Contact your local VA community employment coordinator to offer job opportunities to homeless veterans.
- Partner with the VA if you’re a business or property owner to provide more affordable housing to veterans in your community.
December 13, 2023
Janet O'Dell, RN