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By Location Alaska Albuquerque Allentown Amsterdam Anaheim Anchorage Ann Arbor Atlanta Austin Baton Rouge Bend Binghamton Boston Boulder Canada Cardiff Charlotte Chatsworth Chicago Chippenham Cleveland Columbia SC Columbus Dallas Denver Des Moines Detroit Edmonton Eugene Fayetteville Fort McMurray Fredericton Gainesville Glendale Great Falls Greensboro Harbor City Harrisburg Hawaii Hawthorne Hollywood Honolulu houston Ithaca Kalkaska Kelowna Koreatown Las Vegas Lima London London (Canada) Los Angeles Louisville Manchester Miami Minneapolis/St Paul Montreal Nashville New Orleans New York City Nickelsville Norway Oakland Ocala Oslo Ottawa Oxford Paradise Pasadena Peru Philadelphia Phoenix Pine Ridge Pittsburgh Portland Reseda Sacramento Salt Lake City San Diego San Francisco San Jose San Luis Obispo Santa Monica Saskatoon Seattle Shawnee Skid Row Springfield St John's St Louis St. Petersburg Syracuse Tacoma Tampa Toronto Traverse City Tulsa United Kingdom Vancouver Venice Beach Vermont Victoria Wales Washington DC Wentzville Westwood Wichita Wilmington Winnipeg Yellowknife By topic Addiction Advocacy Affordable housing Art and Music Awareness Charity Cold Weather College Students Community Involvement Coronavirus Couch Surfing Couple Criminalization Data Disabled Divorce Domestic violence Drug testing Education Employment Eviction Ex-convict Faith based Families Family conflict Female Financial crisis Foster care Harm reduction Health care HIV/AIDS Homeless count Homeless deaths Hostels (UK shelters) Hotels Housing First HUD Human trafficking Identification Incarceration Indigenous Invisible People Invisible Stories Job loss K2/Spice (Synthetic Marijuana) LGBT Libraries Lived Experience Male Mental illness Mobile Homeless Natural disasters NIMBY Outreach Panhandling Peer Support Pets Poverty Pregnant PTSD Public Feeding Racism Recycling Relationships Research Rural Schools Seniors Sex Offenders Sex Worker Shelters Single Parent Social Media Social Security Socks Solutions Street Soccer Survival sex System Failure Systems Change Technology Tent Cities Tiny Homes Transgender Travelers Veteran Vietnam Veteran Violence Waiting list Welfare Working poor Youth EVENTS @home contests PBS road trip road trip 2009 road trip 2010 road trip 2011 road trip 2013 to fight youth homelessness sober birthday campaign SXSW TEDx INTERVIEWS Learn More Canadian Homelessness Coronavirus and Homelessness Criminalization of Homelessness Family Homelessness Homeless Seniors Homeless Veterans Homeless Youth Homelessness Mobile Homelessness Panhandling Tent Encampments U.K. Homelessness MISCELLANEOUS 360 video Awards Cause Marketing Dream Center Gates Foundation Google Glass Media Patreon Tribute World Trade Center YouTube More Updates

Veteran Homelessness Grew in the Months Leading Up to the Pandemic 

homeless veteran

Following a period of progress, veteran homelessness started reverting to critical levels even before the COVID-19 crisis swept the world. While the shift was slight, it is a significant projection of possible future trends. Here’s what that means for housing advocates.

Homelessness has hindered war veterans in unparalleled ways. Leaving the battlefield feels a lot less victorious when it means you are now 50% more likely to become homeless than the people who didn’t enlist. Yet, this is the dismal reality American war veterans are faced with if they’re fortunate enough to survive the bloodshed of perpetual war.

Plagued by a plethora of unique struggles faced only by US soldiers, the military veteran has sadly become a face associated with homelessness in America.

For better or worse, media has perpetuated a stereotypical image of the homeless war veteran, often depicted as mutilated from war, wheelchair-bound, and desperate, begging roadside for change. At best, this imagery is a generalization. At worst, a caricature.

Offensive and inaccurate as it might appear, this down-on-luck mental illustration has stricken many American hearts with sympathy for homeless veterans of war. Sympathy and visibility are out of reach for most homeless community members. However, when the focus fell on military servicemen and women wallowing in the depths of hopeless despair, there was a public outcry that other marginalized groups did not experience.

Perhaps even more shocking, that outcry was met with timely, political action.

Between 2010 and 2019, Veteran Homelessness Sharply Declined, Effectively Cut in Half

This serves as evidence that public opinion directly influences political policy. As empathy for the homeless veteran found a place in the heart of our nation, politicians moved to reduce the crisis.

To be clear, cutting veteran homelessness in half took almost an entire decade. During that time, the estimated number of homeless vets went from 74,087 to 37,085. This significant reduction exceeded efforts to end homelessness among other subpopulations such as chronically homeless individuals.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness cites Housing First and military-specific programs as the critical factors in halving veteran homelessness nationwide. Notable initiatives include:

  • 2011’s Supportive Services for Veterans Families focusing on rapid rehousing
  • 2012’s Housing First program for veterans operating under the moniker of HUD-VASH

Based on this blueprint used to seriously reduce veteran homelessness, there is a lot to be learned about what works and what doesn’t work. Sadly, we as a nation appear to be backpedaling in policy. This is evidenced in the increase in overall homelessness as well as the increase in veteran homelessness.

It would be easy to shrug these slightly higher numbers off as unfortunate byproducts of the pandemic. However, a closer look at the data shows that veteran homelessness was inching its way back into crisis-level territory even before the international health crisis hit.

In the Months Leading Up to the Pandemic, Veteran Homelessness Started Reverting to its Old Self

Data shows that veteran homelessness exhibited a small but statistically significant increase before the pandemic. 

While the number consisted of just a few hundred soldiers, it’s important to remember that every new person thrust into homelessness is a tragedy. This number reflects several hundred tragedies. It translates to hundreds of:

  • struggling families
  • crowded hospitals
  • bouts of depression
  • preventable health issues
  • new homeless encampments
  • inevitable deaths as life expectancies plummet by the decade

We are already short millions of affordable homes and hundreds of thousands of shelter beds. A few hundred more homeless people are a tragic national loss in the grand scheme of things.

Homelessness is the war waiting for many American soldiers when they return home. If the direction of political policy continues moving toward criminalization, things will only get worse.

Future soldiers can expect to go from bunkers to sidewalks, sidewalks to jail cells and repeat the cycle for years. Will the government clarify that housing is not a human right the American soldier will fight for or obtain in the latest Go Army commercials? Or will that be a dirty secret swept beneath the battlefield?

The Harms of Moving Away from Housing First Strategies

This new data is exemplary not only of trends amongst military members and their families but also of the broader harms caused by moving away from Housing First strategies and toward the criminalization of homelessness. Notably, it is not the only factor currently working against US vets. A lack of affordable housing hits military families hard and shows no signs of stopping.

Please urge your legislators to rethink this policy shift and introduce strategies that make housing a human right.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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