Today’s guest post comes to us from MilitaryFamilies.com.
Homeless veterans face the same hardships as the rest of the homeless population, but veterans also face unique challenges related to their history of service. Increased collaborative efforts from the Department of Veterans Affairs and community providers have improved the rates of homelessness among our veterans in recent years. However, many more homeless and at-risk veterans still urgently need assistance.
On any given night, over 75,000 military veterans sleep in homeless shelters or on the streets, and about 136,000 veterans use homeless shelters or other services during the course of a year. Nearly nine in ten of these homeless veterans left their military service with an honorable discharge, and nearly that many have a high school diploma or GED.
In fact, veterans on average are more likely to have an education than non-veterans. As a result, veterans in general do better financially; about ten percent of the American population lives below the poverty line, but only about five percent of veterans live in poverty. Unfortunately, impoverished veterans seem more likely than impoverished civilians to slide into homelessness. Of adults in poverty, about five percent become homeless at some point; veterans in poverty become homeless at about double that rate.
Why are poor veterans so much more vulnerable to homelessness than poor civilians? At least part of the answer may be linked to social isolation. Ninety-six percent of homeless veterans arrive at homeless shelters alone; twenty percent of the general homeless population usually arrives at shelters with at least one family member. This apparent lack of social support networks among poor veterans may be related to the same factors as the high divorce rate among military members, and it may make some veterans more vulnerable to homelessness once they become impoverished.
Along with this social isolation, many homeless veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and/or other mental health issues linked to their experiences in combat and their difficulties since. Improved access to counseling and other mental health treatment is an urgent need of homeless veterans. Other urgent needs include medical care, safe and stable housing, and employment assistance. Access to these services can prevent homelessness for veterans before it begins, and help veterans into a better situation if they do experience homelessness.
The VA is increasing its efforts and making great progress, but community programs are a very effective way to help homeless veterans, especially if programs involve other veterans as sources of support, encouragement, camaraderie, and assistance. These programs draw from the strengths of military culture; close bonds, teamwork, leadership, and individual strength combined with peer support is a powerful recipe for recovery and stability.
We don’t have to stop there; all of us can lend a hand to our nation’s service men and women. How can you help America’s homeless heroes?
Learn about the issues facing homeless veterans in general, especially veterans in your neighborhood. Find organizations in your area serving homeless veterans; the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has a searchable database, and the Department of Veterans Affairs website offers a listing of national organizations such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Volunteer with one of these organizations; your skills, time, and compassion can make a difference!
For more information about homelessness among veterans and their families, please check out our website.
MilitaryFamily.com is a community website designed to connect military families with a system of current and relevant resources. The website empowers military families while improving quality of life through community, guidance, and support.