Even on Veterans’ Day, tens of thousands of American vets find themselves homeless and unsure of where they will sleep tonight. Veteran homelessness has long been a source of national shame, but in recent years a coalition of government agencies working with community partners have significantly reduced those numbers.
In 2009, President Obama and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki set the ambitious target of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. At the time, there were nearly 70,000 vets on the street, but now that number is reduced by 15,000. The Veteran Administration’s homeless initiative uses a comprehensive approach that works with a network of community partners to provide targeted job training and education, outreach and prevention, and various forms of treatment to help vets get off the streets.
While these efforts are a significant start, much more needs to be done to address veteran homelessness. In addition to common causes of homelessness like lack of income and affordable housing, over 3/4 of homeless veterans also suffer from mental illness or alcohol/drug abuse issues. Couple this with the frequency of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and there’s a unique set of problems shared by a large number of vets.
Veterans make up just 9% of the population, but they make up 23% of America’s homeless. The majority of these served in Vietnam, but in recent years homeless advocates have noted a significant uptick in veterans of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Loath to see another generation of young soldiers end up on the streets, people from all walks of life and political affiliation have truly forged together to confront it. If you know a veteran who’s homeless, or at risk for being homeless, the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans has a hotline staffed by trained counselors to call for information and assistance—1-877-4AID-VET.
If you want to help end veteran homelessness, learn how to get involved with organizations in your area HERE.