iStock_000009064865XSmall.jpgThe US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that our nation's homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 8% being female. Most of them are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders.

About 13% of our nation's homeless population are veterans.

Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. About 9% are aged 18 to 30, and 41% are 31 to 50 years old. Conversely, only 5% of the total number of veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.

America's homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq OEF/OIF, and the military's anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America.

Nearly half of the homeless veteran served during the Vietnam era. Two thirds of our homeless veterans served our country for at least three years, and one third were stationed in a war zone.

Another  1.4 million veterans are considered at-risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

How many homeless veterans are there?

Because of the transient nature of homeless veterans, it's difficult to obtain perfect data or precisely pinpoint the problem; however estimates are that 62,619 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, about twice that number have experienced homelessness.  While only 7% of the general population can claim veteran status, nearly 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans.

Why are Veterans Homeless?

The causes of homelessness are complex: extreme shortages of affordable housing, livable income that provides financial access to healthcare (along with physical challenges, a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse), lack of family support, and difficulty cultivating social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce which places many veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.

The top priorities for homeless veterans are secure, safe, clean housing along with a supportive environmental free of drugs and alcohol.

Doesn't the Department of Veterans' Affairs Take Care of Homeless Veterans?

To a certain extent, yes – the Department of Veterans' Affairs does help homeless veterans. Each year, specialized  programs within the VA provide healthcare to almost 150,000 homeless veterans and other services to more than 112,000 veterans. Additionally, more than 40,000 homeless veterans receive compensation or pension benefits each month.

Since 1987, The VA's programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with community-based service providers to expand the outreach of services to more veterans in crisis. The VA, using its own resources or in partnership with others, has secured nearly 15,000 residential rehabilitative and transitional beds, and more than 30,000 permanent beds for homeless veterans throughout the nation. These partnerships are credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by 70% percent since 2005.

What services do veterans need?

Veterans need a coordinated effort to provide

  • secure housing
  • nutritional meals
  • basic physical health care
  • substance abuse care and aftercare
  • mental health counseling
  • personnel development and empowerment

Additionally, veterans need job assessments, training and placement assistance.

California Veterans Assistance Foundation (CVAF)  strongly believes that all programs to help homeless vets must focus on obtaining sustained employment and housing.

What's Working?

homepage_photos_imageSlideShow5.jpgThe most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based nonprofit organizations using a "veterans helping veterans groups" model.  Best practices are programs that feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in a structured, substance-free environment with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves.

Government money, while important, is limited, and available services are often maxed out. It is critical, that community groups reach out to our local community members to help support our veterans and coordinate the resources and opportunities that most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care. Veterans who participate in collaborative programs receive appropriate services and assistance; in turn, they have a far better chance of becoming tax-paying, productive citizens again and leading lives of dignity and fulfillment.

In general, community-based veteran organizations across the country have demonstrated the greatest success reaching homeless veterans and helping them to reintegrate into their communities and become assets to society.

Definitions, Demographics And Estimated Numbers

Following is official US Code used with regard to the term homelessness; these codes often determine how federal funding is allocated.

In title 42, chapter 119, subchapter 1, homelessness is defined as;

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 an primary residence that is

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);

an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or

a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Demographics of Homeless Veterans

  • 13% of the homeless populations are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless populations are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 70% have a substance abuse problems
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 51% are white males, compared to 38% of non-veterans
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% nonveterans

What Does The California Veterans Assistance Foundation Do?

Currently, CVAF is focused on working in Kern County because of its high number of homeless veterans which is estimated at around 46,000.  Using the data from the VA, the 13% estimate of homeless veterans in the county would be 5,980 on any given day.

CVAF is a liaison between the federal government and community-based homeless veterans' service providers. CVAF foremost goal is to be an advocate for homeless veterans and to work for the elimination of homelessness among veterans.