Frequently Asked Questions

Who are homeless veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation’s homeless veterans are mostly males (4% are females). The vast majority are single, most come from poor disadvantaged communities, 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems. 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. Forty-seven percent 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 are there?

Although accurate numbers are impossible to come by, -no one keeps national records on homeless veterans- the VA estimates that more the 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. More than 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively one out of every four individuals who is sleeping in a doorway, alley, or boxes in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform to serve our country.

Why are Veterans Homeless?

Veterans are homeless due to a complex set of factors such as severe shortages in affordable housing, poverty, high unemployment and mental and physical disabilities. A large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with the 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, and affordable housing that is free of drugs and alcohol, with a supportive environment. While most homeless people are single, unaffiliated men, most housing money in existing federal homeless programs are devoted to helping homeless families and homeless women with dependent children. According to “Is Homelessness a Housing Problem?” in “Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives. by the Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997.

Doesn’t the Department of Veterans Affairs take care of homeless veterans?

To a certain degree, yes. According to the VA’s 1997 report, in the years since it began responding to the special needs of homeless veterans, its homeless treatment and assistance network has developed into the nations largest provider of homeless services, serving more than 100,000 annually. With an estimated 400,000 veterans homeless at some time during the year, the VA reaches 25%, of those in need leaving 300,000 veterans still in need. Since 1987, VA programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration with community service providers.

What services do veterans need?

Veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing and nutritional meals, essential physical health care, substance abuse aftercare, mental health counseling, and personal development and empowerment. Veterans also need job assessment, training and placement assistance. VAF strongly believes that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping veterans reach the point where they can obtain and sustain employment, plus permanent assisted housing.

What seems to work best?

The most effective programs for homeless and at risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit “vets helping vets” 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 for homeless veterans is currently limited and services only 1 in 10 of those in need. It is critical that community groups reach out to help provide the support, resources, and opportunity most Americans take for granted: housing, employment, and healthcare. There are community based veteran organizations across the country, which have emonstrated impressive success reaching homeless veterans. Veterans who participate in these programs have a higher chance of becoming tax-paying citizens again.

What is the definition of homeless?

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- individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and individual who has primary 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.

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 and download the NSHAPC reports from there.

Veteran specific highlights:

    • 23% of the homeless population are veterans
    • 33% of the male homeless population are veterans
    • 47% Vietnam Era
    • 17% post Vietnam Era
    • 15% pre Vietnam
    • 67% served three years or more
    • 33% stationed in a war zone
    • 25% have used VA homeless services
    • 85% completed high school/GED compared to 56% of non-veterans
    • 89% received an Honorable Discharge
    • 79% reside in central cities
    • 16% reside in suburban areas
    • 5% reside in rural areas
    • 76% experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems
    • 46% are white males compared to 34% non-veterans
    • 45% need help finding jobs
    • 37% need help finding housing