There’s a lot of social stigma surrounding this particular social group, yet who are they and how did they get there in the first place? Well, for starters, let’s define the term itself. Homeless veterans are people who have served in the armed forces and are currently without proper accommodation. Contrary to public perception, this type of homelessness isn’t exclusive to the US alone and isn’t a new phenomenon either. As a matter of fact, it can be traced back to the Reconstruction Era (e.g., mid-to-late XIX century) where, according to homeless veterans statistics, this social group made up the general homeless population at the time.
Overall, the US public was made more aware of this problem only after the Vietnam War. Lack of economic stability and economic hardships were among the major factors that led to the explosion of this phenomenon in the post-Vietnam War period. In addition, veterans from more recent conflicts were also affected. The US Department of Veteran Affairs states that most homeless veterans in America are predominantly male with only a small number of them being, in fact, female.
A precise count is almost impossible to make, yet, according to estimates, over 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and that’s a major problem that the country is currently trying to address.
So, if you’re interested in finding out more about homeless veterans in the US, continue reading!
The Most Disheartening Homeless Veterans Statistics (Editor’s Choice):
- Almost 40,000 veterans are without shelter in the US on any given night.
- The number of vets experiencing homelessness is down by over 40% since 2011.
- The leading causes of homelessness among vets are PTSD, social isolation, unemployment, and substance abuse.
- Veterans account for 11% of homeless adults in the US.
- California has the highest number of vets living on the streets.
Table of Contents
- The Most Disheartening Homeless Veterans Statistics (Editor’s Choice):
The Number of Homeless Veterans Through The Years
- Good news: the total number of veterans without shelter is steadily decreasing
After a disappointing 2017, the number of veterans without appropriate housing decreased by over 5% in 2018. The decreasing rate has been attributed to continued commitment from local, state, and federal authorities.
Source: Military Times
- There was a huge drop of homeless veterans in 2018
HUD reported a decline in the number of veterans without shelter and on the streets after counting a total of 37,878 living in transitional housing, shelters, or the streets in early 2018. Compared to 2017, volunteers counted over 2,100 vets less.
- The number is down by 43% since 2011
Official HUD records show a sharp decline (over 43%) of vets without a home since 2011. According to HUD’s homeless veterans statistics from 2018, the number is now well below 40,000.
- Yet another decrease was detected in 2019
The US Department of Veterans Affairs reported a further 2.1% drop in early 2019. That’s even more vets off the streets after yet another decline the previous year. Since 2017, the number has repeatedly fallen by a few more percentages, showing that the efforts to end veterans’ homelessness are coming to fruition.
- Some states have already announced an end to the problem in 2019
A total of 3 states and 78 communities in the US have announced an end to shelter-less vets. As of September 2019, Las Vegas (Nevada), Miami-Dade County (Florida), Norman (Oklahoma), Little Rock (Arkansas), and Riverside (California) are among the communities that can be found on the ever-expanding list.
The Leading Causes of Veteran Homelessness
- Social isolation and lack of support are major risk factors among US vets
Research has shown that these two factors greatly increase the risk of vets going homeless. In general, veterans have low marriage and high divorce rates; 1 out of 5 live alone. Without proper social support after discharge, the risk of going homeless is extremely high among vets.
- Veterans at greater risk of homelessness than non-veterans
A joint study between Yale University and the VA Connecticut Health Care System in 2015 found that veterans have a higher risk of going homeless than non-veterans. This disparity has declined a bit over time.
- Veteran statistics point to substance abuse as a major factor for homelessness
Many studies have pointed the blame to substance abuse as one of the leading causes of vets being homeless. Not only that but it’s also a strong predictor of future homelessness, so to speak; substance abuse includes both alcohol and drug abuse.
Source: Psychology Today
- Mental illness is yet another leading cause of despair among homeless vets
A large-scale VA study on the mental health of vets from 2012 revealed that mental disorders are common among homeless veterans. The VA’s IG noted that mental illness is also a “strong predictor” of a vet going homeless after discharge from active duty. PTSD has been identified as the leading mental disorder among US vets. Anxiety closely follows suit.
- Lack of affordable housing is another major problem
The shortage of low-cost housing is a major problem for everyone, not just vets. However, it certainly is a bigger problem for the latter. Studies have uncovered that the lack of affordable housing is a major factor for a veteran going homeless, especially among post-9/11 vets. These veterans are more likely to struggle to afford housing than any other group of vets before them.
Source: City Lab
- Unemployment greatly contributes to the problem
Several studies have identified unemployment as one of the factors that greatly contribute to the problem. Vets often have a problem finding a job due to a combination of factors that may or may not include mental or physical problems and substance abuse. Statistics show that unemployment is the primary reason for vet poverty and homelessness in the US.
Source: Social Solutions
Who Are the Homeless Vets
- Over 90% of the veterans living on the street and shelters are male
Research conducted by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) from 2013 showed that males account for around 92% of vets living in shelters and on the streets. The number is significantly smaller among females.
- Vets are younger than the general homeless population
Despite what many people may think, statistics released by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has shown that the average homeless vet is much younger than the general homeless population. Over 40% are aged 31–50 — this is the largest group of vets living in shelters or on the streets. Those aged 62 and older represent a large chunk as well, but it’s still lower than the 31–50 age group.
- 11% of homeless adults are, in fact, veterans
One of the most shocking, and at the same time sad, homeless veterans facts is that they account for 11% of the adult homeless population. Overall, it’s a pretty large chunk compared to other social groups.
- White veterans account for 52% of veterans experiencing homelessness
Data from the NCHV report on homeless vet race and ethnicity showed great social disparity. White vets make up 52.1% of all homeless veterans, whereas African-Americans account for just 35.1%. Hispanics are represented even less, accounting for only 5.1%.
Veteran Homelessness per State
- California has the highest estimated number of veterans experiencing homelessness
Sunny California is sitting at the top of the list with nearly 11,000 veterans currently living without any shelter. The exact number in 2019 was 10,980, which is nearly 5 times more than the second state on the list. California also has the highest number of homeless people in the US per state.
- Florida ranks second
The number of homeless veterans in Florida is significantly smaller than in California. In 2019, a total of 2,543 vets were counted by the authorities experiencing homelessness. That’s out of a total homeless population of just over 31,000 in Florida.
- Texas, Washington, and Oregon follow suit
The number of vets experiencing homelessness is highest in California and Florida, with Texas coming right below them on the list. In 2019, a total of 1,806 veterans were homeless in Texas, with Washington and Oregon close behind (1,585 and 1,438, respectively).
- New York and Colorado — the last remaining states with over 1,000 US vets experiencing homelessness
Surprisingly, New York and Colorado are the only other states with a count of over 1,000 homeless people who have served in the Army.
- North Dakota and Wyoming on the bottom of the list
Just how many veterans are homeless in these two states, you may ask? Well, the numbers are drastically lower than the above-mentioned states. North Dakota had 49 in 2019, whereas in Wyoming, only 51 vets without shelter were officially accounted for.
- North Dakota and Wyoming had the greatest decrease in homelessness among US veterans in 2018
The drop experienced in North Dakota was a massive −87.8%, far ahead of Wyoming (−25.4%), Kentucky (−24.5%), Delaware (−23.1%), and Washington (−21.8%).
- On the other hand, Mississippi had the greatest increase in recent years
Unlike North Dakota and Wyoming, homeless veterans statistics show that Mississippi had the greatest increase in veterans experiencing homelessness at a staggering 78.9% increase in 2017 and 2018. Alabama experienced a rise of 26%, whereas the state of New Mexico saw a rise of 16.9%.
- Homelessness is concentrated mostly in urban areas
According to HUD’s statistics, most unsheltered vets in California are concentrated in urban areas. While there’s no sure way of knowing how many veterans are homeless in LA, Los Angeles county has the highest number of homeless people on the streets with over 3,000 vets living on the street and shelters in 2019 — that’s almost a third of the total number of vets experiencing homelessness in the state of California; unfortunately, there are no signs of it decreasing any time soon.
Measures Taken to Reduce the Percentage of Homeless Veterans
- Rapid re-housing by the SSVF
One of the recent measures on homelessness, rapid re-housing, was created by the Supportive Services for Veteran Families. Implemented by the VA, the program has already taken shape and is providing outstanding results thus far. It aims to provide housing to vets who are currently homeless, with tens of thousands of vets already seeing the benefits.
- How many homeless veterans have stable housing? A few, thanks to various charities
The HUD has a long-standing commitment to helping vets in need. The agency has three main programs that support this goal — HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing), HPRP (Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program), and CoC (Continuum of Care).
HUD-VASH is a collaboration between the HUD and VA which combines HUD’s housing vouchers with VA’s supportive services to help all homeless veterans and their families.
- Charities provide help to different groups — veterans and the homeless
Charities such as DAV (Disabled American Veterans) help vets live a life with dignity by ensuring that they can access a full range of benefits at their disposal. Other charities that aim to help include Volunteers of America, US Vets, and IAVA.
- VA’s HCHV program is operating at over 100 sites
The VA’s Health Care program for vets experiencing homelessness operates at 133 sites and includes health care services, treatments, referrals, and case management. It assesses over 40,000 homeless veterans per year and helps prevent mental disorders and a slew of other health problems among vets such as depression.
- The Salvation Army offers a variety of services that a homeless vet might need
The Salvation Army has joined the fight to end homelessness among the general population, including veterans. Food and lodging for varying amounts of time are provided to those in need. Education, counseling, and vocation assistance is also available.
Source: Military Wallet
How Can You Help Homeless Veterans
Our vets have risked their lives in combat to protect the citizens of the US. In many ways, we owe our lives to them and should always lend a helping hand. The number of vets without shelter is on the decline which shows promise, but there are still states where it’s on the rise. In short, although we’re close to getting veterans and homeless off the streets for good, there’s still a lot of work left to be done.
There are a number of obstacles the government needs to address. While the VA and other organizations and charities are doing everything they can, you can still join the good cause and help out yourself.
For starters, take a good look around your community and see whether there are any vets that require assistance. You can contact different organizations in your area and prevent them from appearing in homeless veterans statistics.
If you can’t help that way, you can always donate to charities and organizations or bring the issue up by getting in touch with elected officials. Every little bit counts and these people need all the help they can get.
As the great Gandhi once said: “we must be the change we want to see in the world.” With your help, we can erase the question “how many homeless veterans live in America?” for good and give vets a chance to live the life they deserve. After all, everyone deserves a shot at a normal life, yet the vets who risked their lives for our country and the people within it deserve it all the more.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why are veterans homeless?
A variety of factors are to blame. In most cases, unemployment due to mental disorders or physical abilities is the leading cause, with substance abuse close behind. Alcohol and drug abuse certainly play a role as well as a lack of low-cost housing, and not to mention depression. As you can see, we cannot simply point the finger in but one direction; the problem is a lot more complex than that.
2. Why are there so many homeless veterans?
A lot of veterans that served the US Army in many wars suffer from PTSD and are unable to get a job. Lack of support, as well as the lack of low-cost housing, have left many on the streets, resulting in a high number of veterans without access to proper accommodation.
Once again, the role that alcohol and drug abuse play in this is bigger than many people would think.
3. How many homeless veterans were there in America in 2018?
As previously mentioned, counting all the vets living on the street or in shelters is a difficult task since many change locations so often. With that being said, the government is doing everything it can to spot all the vets without proper accommodation or who spend nearly every night on the streets. Fortunately, the number is on the decline with each passing year. The number of homeless veterans in the US as of January 2018 was around 37,878, which was counted thanks to the help of volunteers on the streets.
In addition, the VA has detected a huge drop in the number of vets without accommodation in the US in the past decade (around 50% since 2009) and hopes that the current programs designed to help these people will continue the upward trend.
4. How many homeless veterans are there in the US?
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the current number is around 40,000. Still, the good news is that it is constantly dwindling. That’s out of over half-a-million homeless people in the US. Therefore, this figure accounts for less than 9% of all homeless people in the US and it could soon go down even further.
So, although there’s no way of telling how many vets are homeless for sure, we can confirm that it’s getting lower and lower. As reported by HUD, numbers are dropping annually and the most optimistic experts truly believe that the problem could be over (or close to it) sooner than we think. This claim is bolstered by the fact that 3 states and 78 communities have announced an end to vets without access to proper accommodation.
5. What percentage of homeless people are veterans?
Roughly, they make up approximately 11% of the general homeless population. However, that number can’t be exact and is always fluctuating between a few (or more) percentages. Just like the number of vets experiencing homelessness, there’s no way of providing a correct answer to this question.
Vets without proper access to appropriate accommodation are younger than the veteran population.
6. What percent of veterans become homeless?
According to homeless veterans statistics, roughly 3.7% of veterans become homeless in the first five years after leaving the army.