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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.

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.

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