4 States Battling Large Homeless Veteran Populations
The words “Veteran” and “homeless” don’t seem like worthy companions. Between the Department of Veterans Affairs, state Veterans’ agencies, and the hundreds of organizations that advocate on behalf of our men and women in uniform, you might think that a homeless Veteran is a rare thing.
According to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, or AHAR, former members of the United States Armed Forces made up about 11 percent of the 442,723 total homeless adults. That’s 49,933 homeless Veterans!
According to the AHAR there are four states that comprise a large portion of the homeless Veteran population: California (12,096), Florida (4,552), Texas (2,718), and New York (2,542) make up close to half of all the population with 21,908. California alone makes up 24 percent of the estimated Veteran homeless population. California also made the list for the highest rate of “Unsheltered Veterans” with 63.2 percent, or 7,639 unsheltered Veterans.
Other notable states on the list include:
- Montana, leading the list of unsheltered Veterans with 63.3 percent,
- Nevada, third behind California at 60.1 percent,
- And Hawaii and Georgia, fourth and fifth with 58.4 percent and 55.2 percent respectively.
An important thing to ask is if there are patterns for predicting Veteran homelessness. The states listed above may seem random, but many share one thing in common that could explain their above average number of homeless former men and women in uniform.
The number of operational military bases could be one possible indicator of why Veteran homelessness is higher for some states. The “Big 4” locations for Veteran homeless populations can be directly correlated to states with a large number of military bases. California has the most military bases (with 27), while Florida (14) and Texas (16) also have higher numbers of military bases. This theory is not concrete however, as Virginia has a good amount of military bases (20), but has chronically low veteran homeless rates. According to the 2014 AHAR report, Virginia only had 620 homeless veterans.
Another indicator could be weather, as California, Texas, and Florida have more “favorable” climates than most states. (The outlier here is New York, which has very hot summers and cold winters.)
Veteran homelessness is a widespread problem that requires a creative solution. While many might think that a federal, top down approach is the best strategy to help get former soldiers back on their feet, local grassroots organizations are often the key indicator for success.
Despite the recent problems with the VA, they have borrowed the grassroots approach and created the Homeless Veteran Community Employment Service, or HVCES. According to a VA press release, “Each VA Medical Center will have a dedicated Community Employment Coordinator (CEC) who will be responsible for connecting homeless and at-risk veterans to appropriate VA and community-based employment services.”
The VA has realized that the best approach to help Veterans is to tap grassroots communities. It should not be surprising that the VA is modeling the HVCES after so many successful Veterans advocacy groups who do the hard work at the local level to provide for our heroes in uniform.
How Can You Help
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says that the “most effective assistance [for homeless Veterans] is provided by community-based organizations that work within local networks offering a range of services from housing to continuing case management and counseling…”
Helping a Veteran who is homeless, jobless, or suffering from mental health issues won’t be solved by federal dollars and bureaucratic committees. The best medicine for those in the homeless Veteran population, and other at-risk Veteran groups, is the help they get at the local level from every day Americans.
Volunteering, financial donations, and networking with community-based groups for important Veterans’ services are the difference between getting a homeless Veteran to a shelter and leaving them on the streets.
You can also join or start a “Stand Down” program. Stand Down events offer homeless Veterans a multi-day “retreat” to receive assistance with health issues, criminal problems, and employment references, all while providing food, clothing, and a safe place to sleep. To learn more about Stand Down events, you can click here.
To donate to the Veterans Action Network, click here.