National Coalition of Homeless Veterans
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Background & Statistics

 


FAQ ABOUT HOMELESS VETERANS

Who are homeless veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Roughly 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.

Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all 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 homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, 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?

Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 39,471 veterans are homeless on any given night.

Approximately 12,700 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) were homeless in 2010. The number of young homeless veterans is increasing, but only constitutes 8.8% of the overall homeless veteran population.

Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.

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

Doesn’t VA take care of homeless veterans?

To a certain extent, yes. Each year, VA’s specialized homelessness programs provide health care 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, VA’s programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with such community service providers to help expand services to more veterans in crisis. VA, using its own resources or in partnerships 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% since 2005. More information about VA homeless programs and initiatives can be found here.

What services do veterans need?

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

NCHV strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping them 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.

Government money, while important, is limited, and available services are often at capacity. It is critical, therefore, that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities that most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care. Veterans who participate in collaborative programs are afforded more services and have higher chances of becoming tax-paying, productive citizens again.

What can I do?

  • Determine the need in your community. Visit with homeless veteran service providers. Contact your mayor’s office for a list of providers, or search the NCHV database.
  • Involve others. If you are not already part of an organization, align yourself with a few other people who are interested in attacking this issue.
  • Participate in local homeless coalitions. Chances are, there is one in your community. If not, this could be the time to bring people together around this critical need.
  • Make a donation to your local homeless veteran service provider.
  • Contact your elected officials. Discuss what is being done in your community for homeless veterans.

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HOMELESS VETERANS FACTS

DEFINITIONS, DEMOGRAPHICS AND ESTIMATED NUMBERS

What is the definition of "homeless"?

The United States Code contains the official federal definition of homelessness, which is commonly used because it controls federal funding streams. In Title 42, Chapter 119, Subchapter 1, "homeless" is defined as follows:

§11302. General definition of homeless individual
(a) In general

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 U.S. 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. Benefits vary according to factors connected with the type and length of military service. To see details of eligibility criteria for VA compensation and benefits, view the current benefits manual here.


DEMOGRAPHICS OF HOMELESS VETERANS

  • 11% of the homeless adult population are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 70% have substance abuse problems
  • 57% are white males, compared to 38% of non-veterans
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans

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INCARCERATED VETERANS

In May 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a special report on incarcerated veterans. The following are highlights of the report, “Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 2004,” which assessed data based on personal interviews conducted in 2004:

Numbers and profiles:

  • There were an estimated 140,000 veterans held in state and federal prisons. State prisons held 127,500 of these veterans, and federal prisons held 12,500.
  • Male veterans were half as likely as other men to be held in prison (630 prisoners per 100,000 veterans, compared to 1,390 prisoners per 100,000 non-veteran U.S. residents). This gap had been increasing since the 1980s.
  • Veterans in both state and federal prison were almost exclusively male (99 percent).
  • The median age (45) of veterans in state prison was 12 years older than that of non-veterans (33). Non-veteran inmates (55%) were nearly four times more likely than veterans (14%) to be under the age of 35.
  • Veterans were much better educated than other prisoners. Nearly all veterans in state prison (91%) reported at least a high school diploma or GED, while an estimated 40% of non-veterans lacked either.

Military backgrounds:

  • The U.S. Army accounted for 46% of veterans living in the United States yet 56% of veterans in state prison.
  • In 2004, the percentage of state prisoners who reported prior military service in the U.S. Armed Forces (10%) was half of the level reported in 1986 (20%).
  • Most state prison veterans (54%) reported service during a wartime era, while 20% saw combat duty. In federal prison two-thirds of veterans had served during wartime, and one quarter had seen combat.
  • Six in 10 incarcerated veterans received an honorable discharge.

Mental health:

  • Veteran status was unrelated to inmate reports of mental health problems.
  • Combat service was not related to prevalence of recent mental health problems. Just over half of both combat and non-combat veterans reported any history of mental health problems.
  • Veterans were less likely than non-veteran prisoners to have used drugs. Forty-two percent of veterans used drugs in the month before their offense compared to 58% of non-veterans.
  • No relationship between veteran status and alcohol dependence or abuse was found.

Convictions and sentencing:

  • Veterans had shorter criminal histories than non-veterans in state prison.
  • Veterans reported longer average sentences than non-veterans, regardless of offense type.
  • Over half of veterans (57%) were serving time for violent offenses, compared to 47% of non-veterans.
  • Nearly one in four veterans in state prison were sex offenders, compared to one in 10 non-veterans.
  • Veterans were more likely than other violent offenders in state prison to have victimized females and minors.
  • More than a third of veterans in state prison had maximum sentences of at least 20 years, life or death.

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SOURCES

 


Media Information

A quick reference on homeless veterans for media professionals:


How many homeless veterans are there?

Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 39,471 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only 7% of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans.

The number of homeless veterans has decreased by about 50% since 2009, according to HUD's Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR).

To obtain the most up-to-date local estimates, contact the homeless coordinator at your nearest VA medical center or the Office of the Mayor or county government serving your area.

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Iraq and Afghanistan veterans

Combat veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the Global War on Terror who need help – from mental health programs to housing, employment training and job placement assistance – are beginning to seek help from the nation's community-based homeless veteran service provider organizations. Already stressed by an increasing need for assistance by post-Vietnam-era veterans and strained budgets, homeless service providers are deeply concerned about the influx of combat veterans who will eventually be requesting their support.

Approximately 12,700 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) were homeless in 2010. The number of young homeless veterans is increasing, but only constitutes 8.8% of the overall homeless veteran population.

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Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.

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

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What services do homeless veterans need?

Homeless 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 gainful employment. If not, clients will be unable to find and maintain safe, decent, permanent housing.

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What are some of the risk factors for veteran homelessness?

In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a report titled “Incidence of Homelessness among Veterans and Risk Factors for Becoming Homeless in Veterans.” The report presents findings from a study of roughly 500,000 men and women who separated from military service in 2005 and 2006 and were tracked through Sept. 30, 2010. These veterans had not experienced any episodes of homelessness before their separation from active duty, and utilized DoD (including TRICARE) or VA health care after their separation.

The full report can be downloaded here (PDF). Among its findings were the following:

  • OEF/OIF and women veterans experienced higher homeless incidences after military separation. At 5 years after separation from the military, 3.7% of the veterans experienced an initial episode of homelessness (the newly homeless). OEF/OIF and women veterans experienced higher incidences of homelessness than their non-OEF/OIF and male counterparts. Among the veterans who became homeless, the median times to the first episode of homelessness were close to 3 years, indicating half of new homeless episodes occurred 3 years after discharge from active duty. OEF/OIF homeless veterans encountered their first homeless episode slightly sooner than their non-OEF/OIF counterparts after discharge from active duty.
     
  • Veterans who experienced homelessness after military separation were younger, enlisted with lower pay grades, and were more likely to be diagnosed with mental disorders and /or traumatic brain injury (TBI) at the time of separation from active duty. At discharge from active duty, 79–84 percent of homeless veterans were under age 35, in contrast to 64–74 percent of domiciled veterans. Most (70–78 percent) of the homeless veterans were enlisted and in the lower pay grades of E1–E4, compared with 39–51 percent of the domiciled veterans. Nearly half or more (from 48 percent for OEF/OIF men to 67 percent for non-OEF/OIF women) of homeless veterans were diagnosed with some mental disorders, about double their domiciled counterparts (from 21 percent for OEF/OIF men to 34 percent for non-OEF/OIF women). The percent of homeless veterans diagnosed with TBI was nearly 2–3 times higher than their domiciled counterparts.
     
  • Presence of mental disorders (substance-related disorders and/or mental illness) is the strongest predictor of becoming homeless after discharge from active duty. Nearly half or more (ranging from 48 percent for OEF/OIF men to 67 percent for non-OEF/OIF women) of the newly homeless veterans were diagnosed with some mental disorders prior to discharge from active duty; the rate of diagnosed mental disorders among newly homeless veterans increased to 64–76 percent before becoming homeless.
     
  • Homeless veterans, especially women, had received disproportionally higher military sexual trauma (MST)-related treatment than domiciled veterans and the majority of the newly homeless women veterans who received MST-related treatment had received the treatment before they became homeless. The percentages (29 for non-OEF/OIF and 34 for OEF/OIF women, 3 for non-OEF/OIF and 2 for OEF/OIF men) of homeless veterans who had received MST-related treatment were over 3 times higher than those of their domiciled counterparts (5 for non-OEF/OIF and 9 for OEF/OIF women, 0.2 for non-OEF/OIF and 0.3 for OEF/OIF men). Among the homeless women veterans who received MST-related treatment, 60 percent of non-OEF/OIF and 72 percent of OEF/OIF homeless women had received MST treatment prior to their first homeless episode. Among the male homeless veterans who received MST-related treatment, 46 percent of non-OEF/OIF and 53 percent of OEF/OIF homeless men had received the treatment prior to their first homeless episode.
     
  • Approximately 65 percent of homeless veterans utilized the VA’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV)/Homeless Chronically Mentally Ill (HCMI) Program; OEF/OIF and women homeless veterans were more likely to utilize the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program. Approximately 65 percent of homeless veterans utilized HCHV/HCMI program where clinical staff of HCHV and Grant and Per Diem Programs provide services to HCMI veterans with mental illness and/or substance-related disorders. OEF/OIF and women homeless veterans were more likely to utilize HUD-VASH and telephone HUD-VASH homeless programs than their non-OEF/OIF and male homeless counterparts.

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Homeless veteran demographics

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

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Who is helping homeless veterans?

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 that offers the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are successfully regaining control of their lives. Because government money for homeless veterans is limited and VA serves less than half of this population, it is critical that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: employment, housing and health care.

There are over 2,100 community-based homeless veteran service providers across the country and many other homeless assistance programs 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.

  • For a list of community-based homeless service providers arranged by state, click here.
  • For profiles of successful homeless veteran employment assistance programs that include transitional housing and other supportive services, click here.

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Sources

Media contacts
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on homeless veterans’ issues, programs, legislation, federal funding streams and national policy issues, as well as interagency coordination of services and organizations providing direct services to homeless veterans.

Kathryn Monet
CEO, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
kmonet@nchv.org
(202) 546-1969

Randy Brown
Director of Communications, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
rbrown@nchv.org
(202) 546-1969

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Publications

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans publishes the following information to provide assistance to community and faith-based organizations, government agencies, corporate partners and the homeless veterans they serve.

FY 2015 Annual Report
NCHV is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization seeking to end homelessness among America’s veterans. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Annual Report provides an overview of the organization’s programs, activities and accomplishments over the past year. Other highlights include information on NCHV’s leadership, collaboration with other organizations, financial reports, and corporate partners.

E-newsletters
The NCHV monthly e-newsletter is distributed to persons and organizations that have asked to be placed on our email distribution list, and contains news briefs and links to recently announced grants and resources. You may have to adjust your email filters to receive this material.

Guides
These guides (in .pdf format) provide information on how to help homeless veterans find supportive services and employment assistance in the community. Links to organizations and agencies offering a wide range of supportive services can be found here as well.

Brochures and Fact Sheets
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans publishes brochures and fact sheets that offer guidance on starting a program, organization management and financial issues.

These are available for download in brochure format so that they may be copied and folded.

Copyright Policy
Unless otherwise stated, all published material available on the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) website is protected by copyright. Items may be used for educational purposes in their original form only. All other uses are expressly prohibited without the written consent of NCHV. Inquiries should be sent to the Director of Communications at rbrown@nchv.org.


1730 M Street NW, Suite 705  |  Washington, DC  |  20036  |  t-f. 1.800.VET.HELP  |  v. 202.546.1969  |  f. 202.546.2063  |  info@nchv.org