When Johnny comes marching home to homelessness: HUD VA Report Released

There are an estimated 225,822 veterans in Nevada, and approximately 2,526 are homeless.  In other words there are about as many homeless veterans in this state as there are residents in Tonopah or Lovelock.  [NSD pdf]  The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs released the numbers in their supplemental report to the annual assessment of homelessness for Congress. (1) [HUD pdf] There are at least two results which ought to raise concerns.

“Currently, an estimated one out of every six men and women in our nation’s homeless shelters are veterans, and veterans are 50 percent more likely to fall into homelessness compared to other Americans.” 

The 2010 Vets AHAR found that since 2009 the number of homeless veterans at any given point in time has remained nearly steady at 76,329 veterans. Of that number, 57 percent (43,437) were “sheltered,” meaning they were living in an emergency shelter or in transitional housing; and 43 percent (32,892) were “unsheltered,” meaning they spent the night on the streets, abandoned building or encampments.” [HUD]

Small Comforts

OK, some progress has been made since 2009 — homeslessness among our veterans is down 3%.  And yes, the methodology has improved in the way in which we count veterans among the homeless.  However, we obviously have a long way to go.  Nor is this issue going away any time soon:

“This report shows that a growing share of veterans accessing shelter services are between the ages of 18 and 30, an age group that is overrepresented among the homeless veteran population compared to their share of the total veteran population. The report also shows that young veterans are more than twice as likely to become homeless when compared to young non-veteran adults. These findings are particularly concerning given the anticipated number of new veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Homelessness prevention efforts will play a critical role for this youngest cohort of veterans.”   [HUD VA pdf]

That the report was compiled should be another small comfort, since it’s the first in-depth study the departments have made concerning homelessness among veterans.  [HuffPo]  However, these numbers should also be a wake up call for those who wave the flags, beat the drums, and call vociferously for more U.S. military involvement in international affairs — the point is that except for the unfortunate fatalities the young men and women will be coming home as veterans; and, as veterans they are 50% more likely to fall into homelessness than their civilian cohorts.

Little Comfort At All

The odds for these younger veterans aren’t encouraging.

The HUD-VA study noted that while young veterans make up only about 5% of the nation’s veteran population, they constitute nearly 9% of all former servicemembers who are homeless.  The Department of Veterans Affairs blames the rise in young veterans without shelter on a poor economy and an unprecedented pattern of lengthy warfare in which troops are deployed to combat multiple times. [USAT]

When the egregious conditions at the Walter Reed Army Hospital were reported to the country by the Washington Post in 2007 the outcry was voluminous and effective.   However, this recent report from HUD and the VA appears to face the same fate as the 2005 exposé of conditions at Walter Reed in 2005 by Salon.com. (2)  The 2011 homelessness report has been swamped in public consciousness by “news” of a GOP presidential hopeful’s peccadilloes, a doctor’s trial for his role in Michael Jackson’s death, and the incarceration of a troubled starlet.

How many were paying attention last March when CNN reported that House Republicans were proposing $75 million be cut from the housing voucher program for veterans because the vouchers were being issued too slowly?  [CNN] How many viewers were sufficiently outraged to write to a representative in Congress after seeing Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s description of a young veteran’s descent into homelessness on October 25, 2011? How many recall watching reporting of the Los Angeles veterans demanding housing at a Veterans’ Administration facility in California?  (3)

Was anyone watching when a group of veterans sued the Veterans’ Administration “alleging the federal agency failed to provide stable housing at its West Los Angeles facility for vets suffering from mental disorders,” last June.  How many remember the NBC coverage of Lisa Groves’s efforts to get services for veterans in need? ABC aired  reporting on homeless veterans in December, 2010.  (4)

All the previous reporting should inspire someone to ask: What does it take in order for the issues faced by homeless veterans to be of such public concern that we respond as we did in the wake of the Walter Reed scandal?

Sources, notes, and references:

(1) “Veteran Homelessness: A Supplemental Report to the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” HUD VA National Center On Homelessness Among Veterans.  October 28, 2011 pdf.

(2) Tom Bowman, ” Walter Reed was the Army’s Wake Up Call in 2007,” NPR, August 30, 2011.

(3) “Budget Cuts May Hit Homeless Vets,” CNN, March 1, 2011.  “A Veteran’s Descent Into Homelessness,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Video, October 25, 2011.  “LA Vets demand housing at giant VA campus,” CNN, October 24, 2011.

(4) “Homeless Vets Sue VA Over Housing,” NBC, June 8, 2011.  “Helping Homeless Veterans, NBC Video,  Los Angeles, October 13, 2011.  “Fighting Abroad, Homeless at Home,  ABC video, December 26, 2010.

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