Veterans & Homelessness
How to Seek Help in St. Augustine FL
Homelessness is one of the most difficult situations any person can face. Over 500,000 people in the United States experience homelessness, and on a single night, the number of homeless people in America represents nearly 0.2% of the overall national population.1 There are certain populations who are at a higher risk of homelessness than others -- including military veterans.2 Although this disparity is declining, these statistics point to a concerning trend among people who serve in the armed forces. These individuals face significant challenges that contribute to high rates of homelessness, from military-specific risk factors like combat trauma to common issues such as substance abuse or disability.
How Many Veterans Experience Homelessness?
Since people who experience homelessness move from place to place frequently, it can be difficult to accurately measure the homeless population in the United States. In 2017, it was estimated that over 40,000 veterans were experiencing homelessness on any given night -- either sleeping at a shelter, on the street, or another temporary residence. Out of these veterans, 91% were men and 9% were women.3
Veterans comprise approximately 9% of the homeless adult population, and 50% of homeless veterans struggle with serious mental illness.4,5 70% of these veterans experience substance abuse, and many of them are older adults -- 50% are aged 51 years or older, and only 19% of homeless non-veterans are in this age group.5,6 In addition, 55% of homeless veterans have a disability, which can also create barriers to employment and housing.6
What Contributes to Veteran Homelessness?
Many risk factors contribute to homelessness among military veterans. Some of these factors are military-specific, while others impact thousands of homeless people across the country, regardless of veteran status. Understanding these risk factors is important to supporting veterans and knowing where to seek help.
Substance abuse contributes to homelessness among veterans and non-veterans alike. Approximately 38% of homeless people are dependent on alcohol, and 26% are dependent on other types of drugs.7 The rate of homelessness among veterans who have opioid use disorders (OUD) is 10 times higher than the general veteran population.8
Misuse of alcohol and drugs alike can contribute to unstable housing, as well as other risk factors that increase the likelihood of homelessness. Substance abuse can lead to issues at work or school and among our friends and family, often resulting in job loss. Because addiction affects the brain and causes the user to become dependent on the substance, it is very difficult to break the cycle of addiction without professional treatment.
Involvement in the Criminal Justice
Previous incarceration is a major risk factor for homelessness, especially among military veterans. Approximately 50% of all veterans who receive homelessness assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are involved in the criminal justice system.9 In addition, more than 40% of veterans involved in the Veterans Justice Outreach program were either experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or in an unstable housing situation.10
There are many reasons why having a criminal record contributes to homelessness. Many people who exit the prison system do not have a stable home to return to, and reentry programs do not always provide secure and permanent housing. A criminal record can also prevent veterans from applying for housing, finding stable employment, or accessing previous support systems.11
Physical and mental disabilities also contribute to homelessness at very high rates. There is a significant amount of social stigma associated with disability, which can make it difficult for veterans to find jobs and housing.
About 55% of homeless veterans living in shelters have a disability. Out of homeless veterans receiving VA healthcare services, 28% had a chronic medical condition, 28% had depression, and 13% received a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis.12
PTSD is one of the most common mental disabilities veterans experience -- as many as 500,000 veterans who served in wars over the past 20 years experience this condition.13 PTSD can cause symptoms like flashbacks, insomnia, and night terrors, which can make it difficult to engage in daily life without professional help.
What You Can Do to Help Veterans in Your Community
No one deserves to live without safe and stable housing. The sheer number of homeless veterans is staggering, and if you are concerned about this issue, it is important to take action.
You can help homeless veterans in your community by:
Determining What Your Community Needs
Joining a Homeless Coalition
Contacting your Elected Officials
Donating What You Can
Volunteering with a Peer Support Group
Volunteering with Organizations Responding to Risk Factors
Resources for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness
At-risk veterans need support in a multitude of areas: physical and mental health care, substance abuse counseling, secure housing and regular meals, and personal and professional development. If you are a veteran experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless, there are many resources available to you.
If you are at risk of or are currently experiencing homelessness, there are two hotlines you can call for help.
- The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans: (877) 424-3838
- The Veterans Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255
The VA operates the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans, which offers free, confidential guidance to veterans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Through this hotline, a trained VA counselor will inform you of VA homeless programs, health care, and other resources in your area.14
The Veterans Crisis Line is geared toward suicide prevention. If you are experiencing any signs of crisis, such as suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, or feelings of anxiety, the Crisis Line can help. By calling this hotline, you can connect with a crisis responder from the VA who can answer your questions and find local resources.15
The HUD-VASH Program
Stable housing is key to breaking the cycle of homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a collaborative program with the VA called HUD-VASH, which provides housing vouchers to veterans and their families. You are eligible for this program if you are also eligible for VA health benefits.
Through the HUD-VASH program, you can receive a housing choice voucher to find stable shelter. You will also receive case management and support services from the VA to help you keep this housing and find support for underlying conditions, such as mental health conditions or physical disabilities.16
Another important step to break the cycly of homelessness is finding stable employment. For veterans, finding a job can be very difficult -- but several programs are in place to help.
Some of these programs include:
Homeless Veteran Community
Veteran Readiness and Employment
CarrerOneStop's Veteran and Military Transition Center
Aside from veteran-specific resources, many nonprofit organizations offer free job training programs to unemployed people in their area. You can visit a homeless shelter or unemployment office near you to ask about local programs. If you need access to the internet, public libraries often have computers you can use for free.
Mental Health Treatment and Rehab at VA Medical Centers
If you struggle with a mental health condition, such as PTSD, depression, or substance abuse, seeking professional help is necessary. Attending an inpatient treatment program will provide you with therapy, medication, and coping skills management to treat your symptoms. Rehab programs will help you safely detox and create an addiction recovery plan.
Many VA medical centers provide mental health and rehabilitation treatment programs to veterans who struggle with these conditions at a very low cost. If you qualify for these benefits, you can enroll in the VA health care plan at any time.
Breaking the Cycle of Veteran Homelessness
If you are a military veteran experiencing homelessness, you deserve support and care. Knowing where to seek help and the factors that contribute to homelessness is the first step toward finding stable employment and safe housing.
When searching for resources, look for programs that connect you with fellow service members who understand your experiences. Some of the most effective programs are community-based and follow a "veterans helping veterans" model, and your fellow peers can share tips and stories that can help you better understand your own experiences and your path forward.
Remember, you are not alone. Seeking help can provide you with the skills, resources, and connections you need to find stable housing and restore your quality of life. If you are homeless or at risk for homelessness, contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4-AID-VET (424-3838) to find help near you.