The recent study conducted by HUD and VA paints a clearer picture of the homeless epidemic among veterans and the many factors that contribute to homelessness. However, as always, data on homeless veterans never accounts for mortality rates. The VA Secretary Shinseki is doing an outstanding job of improving the system and reducing the rates of homelessness, but it is important that we have accurate data that reflects when reductions in homelessness are due to deaths on the street and an aging veteran population.
This is particularly important now as chronically homeless Vietnam veterans continue to die. As plans are being drafted to reach Secretary Shinseki’s goal of eliminating veteran homelessness, we must make sure that mortality is documented and recognized.
– Comments by Swords’ Policy staff
Military veterans are much more likely to be homeless than other Americans, according to the government’s first in-depth study of homelessness among former servicemembers.
Department of Veterans Affairs nurse clinician Richard Burdo, left, speaks to a homeless veteran under an overpass during a winter storm in Philadelphia on Jan. 26.
About 16% of homeless adults in a one-night survey in January 2009 were veterans, though vets make up only 10% of the adult population.
More than 75,000 veterans were living on the streets or in a temporary shelter that night. In that year, 136,334 veterans spent at least one night in a homeless shelter — a count that did not include homeless veterans living on the streets.
The urgency of the problem is growing as more people return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study found 11,300 younger veterans, 18 to 30, were in shelters at some point during 2009. Virtually all served in Iraq or Afghanistan, said Mark Johnston, deputy assistant secretary for special needs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“It’s an absolute shame,” he said.
President Obama has set a goal of ending chronic homelessness of veterans and others by 2015.
“This report offers a much clearer picture about what it means to be a veteran living on our streets or in our shelters,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said. “Understanding the nature and scope of veteran homelessness is critical if we hope to meet President Obama’s goal of ending this national tragedy within five years.”
The typical vet in a shelter is…
White, non-Hispanic: 49%
Age: 31-50 45%
Source: HUD, VA
HUD, Veterans Affairs and the Labor Department have begun a homelessness-prevention test project in five communities near military installations. HUD is providing $10 million in short-term rental assistance, the VA is providing $5 million for medical services and case management, and the Labor Department is providing job training and counseling.
The findings about homeless veterans are in a joint analysis by HUD and the VA. The report, a copy of which was obtained by USA TODAY, is a follow-up to HUD’s report on homelessness last year.
The report analyzed data from a nationwide homeless survey conducted around the country on one night in January 2009 and a second study looking at who falls into and out of homelessness over the course of a year.
Of the 75,609 homeless veterans found on a single night in January 2009, 43% were living on the streets without shelter, and 57% were staying in an emergency shelter or transitional housing.
Nearly half were in California, Texas, New York or Florida.
• Minorities are more likely to be homeless. Of all vets in shelters, 34% were African-American, and 11% were Hispanic. By comparison, 10.5% of all veterans are African-American, and 5.2% are Hispanic.
• Veterans stayed in shelters longer, on average, than non-veterans. The median length of stay for single veterans was 21 days, while non-veterans stayed for 17 days.
• Most homeless veterans, 96%, are alone rather than part of a family. Among all homeless people, 66% are without families.
• The 136,334 veterans who spent at least one night in a shelter during the year studied amount to one of every 168 veterans in the USA and one of every 10 veterans living in poverty.
Source: USA TODAY, February 8, 2011, by William M. Welch