In January 2020, there were over 37,000 homeless Veterans across the United States. Why so many homeless Veterans?
Often times, Veterans are classified into one particular category. Sure, every Veteran at some point proudly graduated from boot camp. The reality is that Veterans are not all the same in that they do not share all of the same experiences.
There is not any one reason why all Veterans become homeless. There are many macro-factors at the structural level and micro-factors at the individual level that contribute to a higher likelihood of homelessness for Veterans. Macro-factors include (but are not limited to) housing supply shortages particularly affordable housing and social isolation. Micro-factors include chronic, long-term disabilities such as PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury, job loss, physical and mental illness, substance abuse, or domestic violence.
Homelessness is defined as a state of having no home. This definition can be expounded upon to define specific characteristics, but at the heart of homelessness is a lack of permanent housing. So it is easy to understand how a low or even depleted overall supply of affordable housing for Veterans can systematically contribute to increased homelessness. When demand for Veteran housing outpaces the supply, Veterans are increasingly housing cost burdened. Additionally, market conditions such as credit and income requirements, deposits, and background history present barriers to Veterans obtaining permanent housing.
Another contributing factor is social isolation. Social acceptance of an era of Veteran’s efforts to defend American freedoms has shown to have a direct effect on Veteran homelessness. Vietnam era Veterans, for example, returned home from the Vietnam War and experienced social isolation. This has directly contributed to homelessness amongst these Veterans.
Research reports suggest that there is a common chord of poverty, mental illness and substance abuse amongst most Veterans experiencing homelessness. Poverty can result from job loss. Every Veteran experiences “job loss” to some extent upon separation from military service. In fact, federal law mandates that states administer unemployment benefits to servicemembers who have separated from military service. Chronic, long-term service-connected and nonservice-connected disabilities can make it difficult for Veterans to secure higher earning potential. Physical and mental illness can contribute to substance abuse and domestic violence. These factors can increase risk of homelessness in combination or separately. Further, recent studies indicate that combat exposure can contribute to homelessness amongst Veterans as well.
Since the 1980s, much research has gone into studying Veteran homelessness. Research has revealed many risk factors that increase the risk of homelessness within the Veteran population. Individual risk factors can contribute to Veteran homelessness. There are several Veteran Service Organizations that seek to address these complexities. Supply shortages of affordable, Veteran housing fundamentally contributes to increased housing cost burdens for Veterans. Increasing the supply of affordable housing, particularly for our Vets, is a realistic, attainable way that we can reduce the number of homeless Veterans systemically.
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We believe no military Veteran should be without a home. To end Veteran homelessness, we must attack it at the root.
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