The following blog post is adapted from “Tackling Veteran Homelessness with HUDStat,” the lead story of the summer issue of Evidence Matters, a publication by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
More than 2.4 million American soldiers have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom since September 11, 2001.2 Hundreds of thousands of these men and women have returned from Iraq, and many more will be returning from Afghanistan in the next few years.
“Soldiers are returning with higher rates of injury after multiple deployments with severe economic hardships,” says John Driscoll, president and chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Studies show that nearly 20 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced a traumatic brain injury, and 10 to 18 percent suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that post-9/11 veterans found the transition to civilian life harder and had higher rates of post-traumatic stress than veterans who served in previous wars. Rates of military sexual trauma, which is associated with an increased risk of developing PTSD, are high among female veterans, who make up more than 11 percent of veterans of these two wars. For both male and female veterans, PTSD is linked to an increased risk of depression and substance abuse, which exacerbate social isolation and make employment difficult.
The economic downturn and high unemployment rates add to the challenges these soldiers face on returning from active duty. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that veterans between the ages of 25 and 34, who make up more than half of post-9/11 veterans, had a 2011 unemployment rate of 12 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for nonveterans. Among veterans aged 18 to 24, the unemployment rate is much higher — 30.2 percent.
All of these factors contribute to an increased risk of homelessness for returning veterans, even though they have higher education levels (62 percent of veterans over the age of 25 have at least some college compared with 56.4 percent of nonveterans) and higher median incomes compared with the general population. Female veterans and younger veterans are more than twice as likely to be homeless as their nonveteran counterparts.
According to HUD’s 2011 Point-in-Time (PIT) Estimates of Homelessness, veterans constitute 14 percent of the homeless population, although they represent only 10 percent of the U.S. adult population. This PIT count documented 67,495 homeless veterans on a single night in January, a number that is 12 percent lower than a year earlier. Throughout the entire year that ended in September 2010, nearly 145,000 veterans were homeless for at least one night.
Ending homelessness among veterans is a top priority for the White House, HUD, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This commitment is reflected in the nation’s first comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors. Released by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) in 2010, the federal plan sets the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.
To achieve this goal, Opening Doors calls for breaking down institutional silos, increasing collaboration among and within all levels of government, and improving data collection and analysis. Accordingly, HUD collaborates with other federal agencies to collect data and target assistance programs to move veterans from the street into permanent supportive housing — a critical component of the USICH plan.
To learn about how HUD is tackling veteran homelessness with HUDStat, a new data-driven performance management tool, see the 2012 issue of Evidence Matters.