Veteran homelessness has been a consistent problem in the United States dating as far back as World War II. While 17 percent of our entire homeless population is made up of veterans, just 8 percent of Americans claim veteran status, according to Green Doors, a homelessness organization in Central Texas.
Earlier this year it was estimated that 40,000 veterans were experiencing homelessness on a given night in January. Though this number sounds staggeringly high- this is surprisingly good news. The number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the U.S. has been cut nearly in half since 2010, according to the Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs departments and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
“While we’ve made remarkable progress toward ending veteran homelessness, we still have work to do to make certain we answer the call of our veterans just as they answered the call of our nation, said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in August.
This 47 percent drop is largely a result of the Obama administration leading major efforts to fix the widespread problem, with the final goal being to completely eradicate homelessness among veterans and their families.
“They have put more resources into this problem than any administration in history,” said executive director of Veterans Inc., Denis Leary. He “applauds” the administration in their efforts. Leary himself has been active on national and state boards and organizations working directly with homeless veterans and their families in Massachusetts and across New England.
“There are usually a couple basic causes that lead to homelessness,” Leary explained. “More than 50 percent of the time it’s financial. If people are living paycheck-to paycheck, and one person in the family loses their job, that can be catastrophic.”
According to Leary, about 35 percent of the time a substance abuse disorder is one of the root causes of veteran homelessness, since veterans returning home are at higher risk of mental health issues, such as post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
Establishing a “veteran safety net,” as he described it, has allowed issues of health and housing to be directly addressed across the country. Government programs like Support Services For Veteran Families have empowered state and local providers to access funding for living expenses that will keep a family from becoming homeless.
“SSVF let’s us write a check to a landlord, electric company, etc., if it will keep a veteran family housed or rehoused,” said Leary. “It is the biggest improvement in place.”
He is hoping the next presidential administration funds the program.
His organization, Veterans Inc. was awarded $3,000,000 from the SSVF in 2016, and the program will award organizations across the country $300 million in grants next year.
The Center for American Progress estimated in 2011 that more than 75 percent of veterans reported “an inability to effectively translate their military skills to civilian terms.” Therefore, finding work and steady, long term housing stability has been even more difficult for those who can not find work. To keep efforts on track with current progress, more action needs to be taken in areas not as currently addressed.
“I know it’s tough, but if there is a way to increase employment opportunities for veterans and education, this could be a huge area to dramatically help vets,” said Leary. “Employment is really the next frontier.”