Making his daily commute
near San Jose, CA
about Homeless Veterans
Homeless Children In America Surges To All-Time High:
The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in
recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in
every 30, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report
that blames the nation's high poverty rate, the lack of
affordable housing and the impacts of pervasive domestic
Titled "America's Youngest Outcasts,"
the report being issued by the National
Center on Family Homelessness
calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were
homeless at some point in 2013. The number is based on the
Department of Education's latest count of 1.3 million
homeless children in public schools, supplemented by
estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the
The problem is particularly severe in
California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but
accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children
with a tally of nearly 527,000.
Carmela DeCandia, director of the
national center and a co-author of the report, noted that
the federal government has made progress in reducing
homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless
"The same level of attention and
resources has not been targeted to help families and
children," she said. "As a society, we're going to pay a
high price, in human and economic terms."
Child homelessness increased by 8
percent nationally from 2012 to 2013, according to the
report, which warned of potentially devastating effects on
children's educational, emotional and social development, as
well as on their parents' health, employment prospects and
The report included a composite index
ranking the states on the extent of child homelessness,
efforts to combat it, and the overall level of child
well-being. States with the best scores were Minnesota,
Nebraska and Massachusetts. At the bottom were Alabama,
Mississippi and California.
California's poor ranking did not
surprise Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless
The crux of the problem, she said, is
the state's high cost of living, coupled with insufficient
"People think, 'Of course we are not
letting children and families be homeless,' so there's a lot
of disbelief," Hyatt said. "California has not invested in
Hyatt, 29, was homeless on and off
throughout adolescence, starting when her parents were
evicted when she was in 7th grade. At 15, she and her older
brother took off and survived by sleeping in the tool sheds,
backyards and basements of acquaintances.
"These terms like 'couch surfing' and
'doubled-up' sound a lot more polite than they are in
practice," she said. "For teenagers, it might be exchanging
sex for a place to stay or staying someplace that does not
feel safe because they are so mired in their day-to-day
Near San Francisco, Gina Cooper and
her son, then 12, had to vacate their home in 2012 when her
wages of under $10 an hour became insufficient to pay the
rent. After a few months as nomads, they found shelter and
support with Home & Hope, an interfaith program in
Burlingame, California, and stayed there five months before
Cooper, 44, saved enough to be able to afford housing on her
"It was a painful time for my son,"
Cooper said. "On the way to school, he would be crying, 'I
In mostly affluent Santa Barbara, the
Transition House homeless shelter is kept busy with families
unable to afford housing of their own. Executive director
Kathleen Baushke said that even after her staff gives
clients money for security deposits and rent, they go months
without finding a place to live.
"Landlords aren't desperate," she
said. "They won't put a family of four in a two-bedroom
place because they can find a single professional who will
She said neither federal nor state
housing assistance nor incentives for developers to create
low-income housing have kept pace with demand.
"We need more affordable housing or we
need to pay people $25 an hour," she said. "The minimum wage
isn't cutting it."
Among the current residents at
Transition House are Anthony Flippen, Savannah Austin and
their 2-year-old son, Anthony Jr.
Flippen, 28, said he lost his job and
turned to Transition House as his unemployment insurance ran
out. The couple has been on a list to qualify for subsidized
housing since 2008, but they aren't counting on that option
and hope to save enough to rent on their own now that
Flippen is back at work as an electrician.
Austin, due to have a second child in
December, is grateful for the shelter's support but said its
rules had been challenging. With her son in tow, she was
expected to vacate the premises each morning by 8 a.m. and
not return before 5 p.m.
"I'd go to the park, or drive around,"
she said. "It was kind of hard."
The new report by the National Center
on Family Homelessness a part of the private,
nonprofit American Institutes for Research says
remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion
of affordable housing, education and employment
opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services
for the many mothers rendered homeless due to domestic
Efforts to obtain more resources to
combat child homelessness are complicated by debate over how
to quantify it.
The Department of Housing and Urban
Development conducts an annual one-day count of homeless
people that encompasses shelters, as well as parks,
underpasses, vacant lots and other locales. Its latest
count, for a single night in January 2013, tallied 610,042
homeless people, including 130,515 children.
Defenders of HUD's method say it's
useful in identifying the homeless people most in need of
urgent assistance. Critics contend that HUD's method grossly
underestimates the extent of child homelessness and results
in inadequate resources for local governments to combat it.
They prefer the Education Department method that includes
homeless families who are staying in cheap motels or
doubling up temporarily in the homes of friends or
"Fixing the problem starts with
adopting an honest definition," said Bruce Lesley, president
of the nonprofit First Focus Campaign for Children. "Right
now, these kids are sort of left out there by
Lesley's group and some allies have
endorsed a bill introduced in Congress, with bipartisan
sponsorship, that would expand HUD's definition to correlate
more closely with that used by the Education Department.
However, the bill doesn't propose any new spending for the
hundreds of thousands of children who would be added to the
Shahera Hyatt, of the California
Homeless Youth Project, says most of the homeless
schoolchildren in her state aren't living in
"It's often one family living in
extreme poverty going to live with another family that was
already in extreme poverty," she said. "Kids have slept in
closets and kitchens and bathrooms and other parts of the
house that have not been meant for sleeping."
Youth Homelessness: Lessons From Veterans Homelessness
The Family and Youth Services Bureau's National
Clearinghouse on Families and Youth (NCFY) is a free
information service that aims to educate the family and
youth work field about the research and effective practices
that can improve the long-term social and emotional
well-being of families and youth. Recently, NCFY explored
how current Federal efforts to support homeless veterans
could help inform efforts to support unaccompanied homeless
youth. Through a two-part interview with Matthew Doherty,
executive director of the United States Interagency Council
on Homelessness (USICH), NCFY delves into some of USICH's
work with homeless veterans as part of Opening Doors, a
national strategy to end homelessness. The interview also
shares some strategies and lessons learned from USICH's
efforts around veterans' homelessness and how they could be
applied to its national effort to end youth homelessness in
2020. This may be of interest to child welfare professionals
due to the connection between youth homelessness and
involvement with foster care and/or child
Lessons learned include the
- Embrace data: Focusing on existing
data helps communities project the number of people
expected to experience homelessness, and to gauge the
resources needed to respond to their needs. Understanding
current data can also highlight the need for
- Define success: USICH worked to
develop criteria and benchmarks tied to the goal, such as
communities identifying all veterans experiencing
homelessness and providing shelter immediately to any
unsheltered homeless veterans who wanted it.
- Tap into a range of resources:
While veterans may have access to a range of resources
and services through the Department of Veterans' Affairs,
USICH will promote homelessness education among a variety
of systems of care funded by the Department of Health and
Human Services (e.g., child welfare system), Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families programs, schools, and
others in order to meet the comprehensive needs of youth
To read the interview and learn more,
The March 2015 issue of Children's
Bureau Express featured a spotlight section on
Articles in the spotlight section focused on the
relationship between housing insecurity and child welfare
laws have risen rapidly in U.S. cities. Finally, Washington
This is definitely a game changer.
Can you imagine living in fear of
falling asleep? For thousands of homeless people across the
country living in areas with "anti-homeless" laws, getting
shut-eye could also mean getting handcuffed.
But fortunately, the federal
government just sent a strong, game-changing message to
American cities on how they should be treating homeless
folks when it comes to getting a night's rest. And,
according to one expert on the matter, the message is to
homeless advocates what the Supreme Court's decision on
marriage equality was to those fighting for gay rights.
Last week, the Department of Justice
basically said being homeless should not be treated as a
You might think that'd be a
no-brainer, but there's actually been a growing number of
American cities making it increasingly difficult to be
homeless without breaking the law.
A study from the National Law Center
on Homelessness and Poverty analyzed 187 U.S. cities between
2011 and 2014 and found criminalizing homelessness is pretty
popular nowadays. Bans on sitting or lying down in certain
public areas, for instance, have spiked 43%. Laws that
prohibit people from sleeping in vehicles have increased by
a whopping 119%.
The problem is, laws like these don't
curb homelessness. They just make it more challenging for
homeless people to better their circumstances.
When a person gets arrested for, say,
sleeping on a public bench, that arrest makes securing a job
or a place to live down the line that much harder because
employers and landlords are hesitant to trust someone with a
history of run-ins with the law.
Most homeless people aren't
criminals," Eric Tars, a senior attorney for the National
Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, explained to Al
Jazeera. It's only the laws that criminalize their
acts of survival that make them into that."
"So? Who cares? If someone breaks the
law, it doesn't affect me!" someone (without a heart) might
Well, that might be a fair argument
albeit a morally bankrupt one if it were true.
But it's not. Research shows that taxpayers actually foot a
larger bill when people are living without any form of
shelter than if communities simply built and provided homes
for those in need.
That's why it's a huge deal that the
DOJ just declared Boise's ban on sleeping in public spaces
as cruel and unusual punishment.
On Aug. 13, 2015, the DOJ issued a
statement of interest regarding Janet F. Bell v. City of
Boise. And its ramifications may be felt far outside the Gem
In its statement, the DOJ argues an
ordinance in Boise that bans sleeping or camping in public
places is unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth
Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
The DOJ claims a city can't fail to
provide adequate shelter space for those in need while also
outlawing sleeping in public:
"Sleeping is a life-sustaining
activity i.e., it must occur at some time in some
place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then
enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that
person criminalizes her for being homeless."
And that, the department argued, is
While the statement itself doesn't
change policy, still "it's huge," Tars told The Washington
Post. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
filed the lawsuit alongside Idaho Legal Aid Services on
behalf of homeless individuals convicted of violating the
Coming from the federal level, the
statement carries significant symbolic meaning and could
influence how cities regulate homelessness moving forward.
It won't change the realities of being
homeless in America overnight. But it's a meaningful step
for anyone who believes homeless people should be treated
like actual human beings rather than criminals.
for Homeless Men
There's a NCFM men's group in the Dallas/Ft Worth area that
initiated a holiday campaign, sponsored by the Presbyterian
Night Shelter in Fort Worth. The shelter hands out bags with
a want list from homeless men who visit the shelter. The
men's group goes around collecting these items: socks,
stocking caps, gloves, deodorant, etc. Little things to us,
but the kinds of items that could make a HUGE difference to
a homeless man, especially in the winter! Other men can
participate by making a cash donation. Then, the men's group
goes out and buys the items and fills the bags. Wouldn't
this be a great idea to start in your community with a local
shelter, food bank, or church program? Men helping men who
aren't asking for a hand but could sure use one.
you're homeless and in college, what do you do when the
dorms close? She faced it.
How one young woman not only escaped homelessness and
finished college but is helping others.
This is an original piece
by Jessica Sutherland, first featured on Bright and
reprinted here with permission. To read more pieces like
this, go to Bright and hit the follow button.
The Secret Lives of Homeless
After years of homelessness, I
graduated college and a competitive master's program. What
about the other million-plus homeless students in the
Did you know that there are an
estimated 1.2 million homeless students in American K-12
schools? For many years, I was one of them. My mother and I
lived in the same motel room from kindergarten through third
grade; after a few years in a real" home that ended
when I was 11, we spent the next six straight years in a
cycle of chronic homelessness in the suburbs of Cleveland,
To many people, homelessness evokes
images of bums in tent cities, or families sleeping in a
station wagon. While we spent our share of time sleeping in
a shelter or a car, my childhood homelessness was mostly
spent doing what my mother still, to this day
prefers to call bouncing around": living in motel
rooms, or sleeping in whatever extra space people could find
for us in their homes, for as long as we could stretch our
welcome. Occasionally, we'd have an apartment for a few
months, but we'd never have any furniture, and we'd always
Refusing to call our lifestyle
chronic homelessness" didn't mean we didn't keep it a
secret, or feel ashamed of it. I spent most of my teen years
attending school illegally in my father's sleepy hometown; I
was intensely aware that I needed to seem as normal as
possible to avoid detection. I didn't completely know the
consequences, but I was certain that if people found out, I
would get removed to foster care and end up in a new school.
Left: 7th grade yearbook picture. We
were living with my godmother when this was taken, but by
Christmas, we were in a shelter. Right: 8th grade yearbook
picture. We were definitely homeless and I cut my own bangs.
All images via Jessica Sutherland and used with
Foster care sounded better than my
makeshift life with my mother, but I refused to risk losing
my school. My school was my safest place, full of friends
I'd known forever even though I had to keep secrets
from them. After spending just one week in a Cleveland
public school while staying at a downtown shelter in seventh
grade, I was very aware of the quality of education I would
lose if we ever got caught. My suburban school was the
ticket to the future I knew I was supposed to have: a
I was given several advantages at
birth an able body, an active imagination, a pretty
face. From a young age, I developed a sense of entitlement
to go with them. When a stranger drew my portrait on a bus
when I was in preschool, my mother told me it was because I
was the most extraordinary little girl in the world. My
early elementary years were spent in a magnet school that
laid a great academic foundation and cultivated big dreams.
Even when my grades dropped, as homelessness became my
normal existence, it never occurred to me that I might not
go to college.
I was finally removed to foster care
senior year, but thanks to some powerful and clever people,
I didn't miss a day at my beloved high school. However, I
wasn't able to take my college entrance exams until after
graduating at the top third of my class (literally, I
was 101 out of 303). I took the ACT the Saturday after
receiving my diploma, with none of the prep most of my
friends had, and still managed to swing a 30. I was
ecstatic: with that score and my decent GPA, I had a great
chance of getting into college next year. I was certain that
a life full of opportunity and success would
I only got senior pictures because the
photo company chose me to use in advertising, so they were
My foster parents made no mention of
forcing me out of their home once I turned 18, but as my
birthday loomed, I realized I had no plans for my life
between high school and college. I began to work more hours
at the 24-hour diner by the freeway, saving money and
sleeping little. I knew I needed to figure out what happened
next. I was about to be a legal adult, but I still felt very
much like a foster kid.
A late-night TV commercial caught my
notice after a long shift at the diner: the nearest state
school, Cleveland State University, was still accepting
applications. I dragged a dear friend on a campus tour the
following week. It was weird to be choosing a college in
July. My friend was going to a fancy private school a few
hours away, but she validated my excitement when we toured
the largely commuter school's lone dormitory, a converted
I can see you living here," she
said. And so I applied.
At my interview, the admissions
officer asked me why, with stats like mine, I would ever
apply there. At the time, the school was not known for high
standards of admission.
I didn't tell her I was a foster kid
with nowhere else to go; I didn't tell her it was my only
chance to avoid a gap year; I didn't tell her the structure
of the dorm seemed like a better idea than living on my own
at 18. I simply expressed my desire to learn.
My acceptance letter arrived within
the week. My beautiful parents allowed me to stay with them,
rent-free, for the two months between my birthday and the
dorm's move-in day. I checked the right boxes on my FAFSA
and got grants and academic scholarships I needed to cover
most of my expenses. I walked onto two sports teams, in
order to cover the rest without loans.
I was going to college, without a gap
year interrupting my education. But it never occurred to me
that I might not graduate.
"However, a familiar panic set in:
where would I live until then? I didn't want to take summer
classes just so I could keep my dorm room."
I breezed through my freshman and
sophomore years. Those are the days I think of fondly as my
most typical college experience.
As a cheerleader for a Division I
basketball team, and a mid-distance runner, I was more
sheltered and supported than I realized. A small staff
oversaw my medical health, while another tracked my academic
performance and guided me towards graduation. Thanks to
mandatory team study halls and frequent physical therapy in
the training room, most of my social circle was comprised of
Getting tossed in the air as a CSU
I traveled for my teams, and I
traveled with my friends. I spent spring break in Florida
and threw up in the sink of a beachfront McDonald's (to this
day, I can't hold my alcohol). I was assigned a crazy
roommate who used to stand over me in my sleep, but it
wasn't until she threatened to throw me out of a window, in
front of our RA, that I learned that I could do something
about it. I was upgraded to a large single, and my
baseball-playing boyfriend began to spend the night most of
the time. I worked at a ridiculously expensive clothing
store in a nearby mall.
I was a normal college kid.
By the end of sophomore year, I was
eager to keep up with my friends who felt they were too old
for the dorm. I agreed to move into a house with a fellow
athlete that coming fall.
However, a familiar panic set in:
where would I live until then? I didn't want to take summer
classes just so I could keep my dorm room. Even if I did, I
would still have to move out of the dorm for two weeks
between semesters. I'd spent those closures at my foster
parents' house in the past, but the room where I slept had
since been converted to an office.
I have an idea," my
baseball-playing boyfriend said to me one night. You
should move into my room for the summer. My mom won't care."
He was headed out of state, to play in some competitive
league for the entire summer.
No way. I could never ask her to
do that. She'd never say yes."
I already asked her. She already
"Nobody was keeping me in line; nobody
was telling me I was allowed to make mistakes."
Junior year was a disaster. My friend
and I found an apartment, but she secretly decided to
transfer schools mid-year, so she never signed the lease.
When she moved out, I was responsible for more rent than I
could afford. I soon began working at a downtown brewery
more, and going to school less. There was nobody to ask for
help or guidance, and my attempts to live with other
roommates failed miserably.
Ultimately, I broke the lease and
moved into a much cheaper and crummier apartment in a much
worse neighborhood. My baseball-playing boyfriend and I
fought constantly, and finally broke up. I dabbled in a
different major, and my grades plummeted. I'd quit athletics
that year, and my life suddenly lacked the excitement and
structure it once had. Nobody was keeping me in line; nobody
was telling me I was allowed to make mistakes.
For the first time in my life, I got
an F on my report card. I decided I needed to take a
When I told my family about leaving
school, nobody challenged me. Nobody told me it was a bad
idea to drop out, that nearly half of college dropouts will
never return to finish their degree. At 20, completely on my
own, I needed an advocate, a mentor, a bossy guide to force
me to take the harder road.
But as much as I needed a kick in the
butt, nobody told me to keep going. So I didn't.
I dropped out for what became five
years, before finally hitting a ceiling at my sales job that
could only be shattered with either three more years of
experience or a college degree. My boss had always insisted
that I was too good for sales, and he strongly encouraged me
to finish my bachelor's so I could have more
So, at 25 years of age, I decided to
finish what I had started, and returned to Cleveland State
as a junior. I didn't have the support of the athletic
department, but I had enough life experience to navigate the
madness of choosing the right classes and filling out
endless paperwork. I knew how to pay bills and keep a roof
over my head.
In the meantime, Cleveland State had
made vast improvements, and so tuition had tripled. I had no
choice but to take out loans to offset what grants didn't
cover. I took work as a cocktail waitress to pay my bills.
My first Film Festival, with a film I
made in undergrad.
In 18 months, I had my degree
and decided to continue my education even further. After
internships and student projects at local news stations and
with the Cleveland Indians, I knew I wanted to work in film
and television. I had always fantasized about attending film
school, but it wasn't until two of my CSU professors pushed
me to apply that I thought I might actually get accepted.
They were right about me: I got in everywhere I applied, and
chose the University of Southern California (USC) School of
Cinematic Arts for my Master of Fine Arts.
While packing to move to Los Angeles,
I found a box with abandoned applications and glossy USC
brochures from years past. USC had been my dream school for
nearly a decade, especially while I was dropped out of
college. I smiled to myself as I realized how far I'd come.
That abandoned dream was about to become reality.
By 2012, I had a master's degree from
USC and a good job at Yahoo!, which I thought was everything
I wanted. I always knew I would tell my story one day; now
that I had a happy ending, I had the power to help other
homeless kids like I once was.
Eventually, I went to observe
Mondays at the Mission," a wonderful life skills class
for teenagers at the Union Rescue Mission on Los Angeles'
Skid Row. When a scheduled speaker got stuck in traffic, I
was asked to share my story as a backup. I remember feeling
unbelievably nervous. Though it was my story, there was a
lot to say, and I had nothing prepared. Before I could say
no, founder Christopher Kai assured me that my story was
worth telling. I pushed through, speaking for 45 minutes.
I wanted those children to know they
had nothing to be ashamed of, that homelessness is not
permanent, and that scars heal. Most importantly, I wanted
them to learn to ask for help. Once I'd learned to ask for
help, to accept it, and to trust others, my life got so much
better. I told them that nobody was waiting for them to
fail. They had to be brave and open up to trusted
My speech captivated the kids. One
student asked me why I didn't cry as I told my sad story. I
said that even when things hurt us, wounds heal. Scars
remind us of the pain we've survived, but they themselves do
not hurt anymore.
After class, a soft-spoken boy named
James lingered. I only came up to his shoulders, but his
shyness made him seem half my size. Do you think you
could help me get into college?" he asked.
I took a deep breath and looked him in
the eye. I'd barely gotten into college myself,
A year later, my young friend was
accepted into 9 out of the 13 schools he'd applied to. In
the end, he chose Howard University. He also chose student
loans, which are, with rare exception, a necessary evil when
attempting to better oneself through higher education.
When his Parent PLUS loans were
declined, due somewhat ironically to his
family's poverty, I created a crowd-funder for him on
Tumblr, using the hashtag #HomelessToHoward. It went viral
overnight. Within two weeks, we'd raised so much money that
I had to apply to start a nonprofit in order to protect the
funding as scholarship, rather than income.
I had a master's degree in my dream
field, from my dream school; I was on track to a decent
career as a producer. While I'd always hoped to inspire
young people with my story one day, I hadn't planned to give
up my producing career just as it began. I was ill-equipped
to run a nonprofit to help homeless kids. But by this point,
I'd realized that my life doesn't always go according to
"Yet somehow, when all was nearly
lost, someone always saved my day, cheered me on, and pushed
me forward. What if Homeless to Higher Ed could be that
someone for the 56,000 homeless kids in our colleges
Most nonprofits start with an idea.
Planning comes next, then fundraising, and then hopefully
publicity. My organization, Homeless to Higher Ed, was built
in reverse: We raised money and went public before I knew
what our precise mission would be.
I watched my young mentee closely as
he transitioned to a college student and mini-celebrity. I
quickly realized that money didn't provide everything he
needed to thrive; there was so much more to it than that. So
I began researching homeless students in American colleges.
And I was shocked to find that I could see myself in the
There were over 56,000 homeless and
aged-out foster youth enrolled in American colleges in 2014.
I learned that more than 90% of them won't graduate within
six years. It took me nine years to get my
Even in a dismal economy, unemployment
rates decrease as education level rises: to wit, education
is the most reliable escape from poverty. And the most
consistent indicator of success in college is whether or not
the student's parents attended college. I had no
college-educated relatives guiding me.
I also learned that homeless college
students tend to be secretive. Fiercely independent. Eager
to fit in. Afraid they have no right to be in college.
Ashamed of their poverty. Paranoid about what poverty says
about them to others. These traits combine to make them hard
to identify and it's even more challenging to get
homeless students to accept help, much less ask for it.
Daresay that most of them think they don't need
I'd never really thought about the
odds that I'd beaten to get where I was. To me, it was the
only normal course for my life, and failure wasn't an
option. Except, of course, for all those times when it
Yet somehow, when all was nearly lost,
someone always saved my day, cheered me on, and pushed me
forward. What if Homeless to Higher Ed could be that someone
for the 56,000 homeless kids in our colleges
Homeless college students?
That's a thing?"
Six months after incorporating the
nonprofit, I had our mission: to normalize the college
experience for homeless and aged-out foster youth. This also
means that we need to de-stigmatize homelessness, so
students in need will self-identify and get the help they
I often joke that my greatest shame is
now my claim to fame. It's now impossible to Google me and
not know that I spent a long time homeless. It's not
something I've hidden about myself; I've been open about my
childhood for my entire adult life. However, homeless
students in college are often quite ashamed of their
background, and struggle mightily to hide it. In fact, that
56,000 number is likely just a fraction of the actual
homeless and aged-out foster youth in American colleges
today, since it's based solely on students' willingness to
9 times out of 10, whenever I tell
someone that I am building an organization that helps
normalize the college experience for homeless students, the
reaction is, Homeless college students? That's a
Yeah. It's a thing. But it doesn't
have to be.
In 2000, there were 208.1 million civilians 18 years old
and older. Almost 26.4 million of these people, or 12.7
percent, were veterans.
In 1980, 28.5 million
veterans lived in the United States, but the number declined
to 27.5 million in 1990 (14.5 percent of the adult civilian
population) and to 26.4 million in 2000. Many veterans from
the Korean War, World War II, and World War I aged and died
during the last 20 years of the 20th Century.
Between 1990 and 2000,
veterans declined as a percentage of the civilian population
in all regions. Among the 50 states and the District of
Columbia, Alaska had the highest percentage of veterans,
17.1 percent. New York (9.5 percent) and the District of
Columbia (9.8 percent) had the lowest percentages of
veterans in their populations. Rural and nonmetropolitan
counties had the highest concentration of veterans. Hampton,
Virginia, near the country's largest naval station, had the
greatest concentration of veterans in 2000, 27.1 percent.
Six of the 10 places with the highest concentration of
veterans were in Virginia.
In 2000, the largest
veteran populations lived in the South (9.9 million) and the
Midwest (6.1 million). The West had veteran populations of
5.7 million and the Northeast had 4.6 million. The South
also had the highest proportion of veterans of the adult
population, at 13.4 percent.
The number of female
veterans has been increasing. Although the 1.6 million women
veterans made up only 6 percent of the total veteran
population in 2000, the percentages of women veterans from
recent time periods is higher. Nearly 10 percent of veterans
who served from May 1975 to August 1980 and 13 percent of
those who served from September 1980 to July 1990 were
women. In the most recent period of service, August 1990 or
later, more than 15 percent were women.
Poverty Low Among
Poverty rates were low
among veterans for every period of service. Overall, 5.6
percent of veterans lived in poverty in 1999, compared with
10.9 percent of the U.S. adult population in general. The
youngest veterans, those who served in August 1990 or later,
were among the most likely to be poor, with a poverty rate
of 6.2 percent.
are homeless veterans?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states the
nations homeless veterans are predominantly male, with
roughly five percent being female. The majority of them are
single; come from urban areas; and suffer from mental
illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring
disorders. About one-third of the adult homeless population
homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean
War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon,
Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the militarys
anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half
of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era.
Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and
one-third were stationed in a war zone.
Roughly 56 percent of
all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic,
despite only accounting for 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of
the U.S. population respectively.
About 1.5 million
other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of
homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and
dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard
How many homeless
veterans are there?
counts are impossible to come by the transient nature
of homeless populations presents a major difficulty
VA estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given
night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that
many experience homelessness. Only eight percent of the
general population can claim veteran status, but nearly
one-fifth of the homeless population are
Why are veterans
In addition to the
complex set of factors influencing all homelessness
extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and
access to health care a large number of displaced and
at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse,
which are compounded by a lack of family and social support
A top priority for
homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers
a supportive environment free of drugs and
homeless people are single, unaffiliated men
housing money in existing federal homelessness programs, in
contrast, is devoted to helping homeless families or
homeless women with dependant children, as is stated
in the study Is Homelessness a Housing Problem?
(Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research
Perspectives, Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997).
take care of homeless veterans?
To a certain extent,
yes. VAs specialized homeless programs served more
than 92,000 veterans in 2009, which is highly commendable.
This still leaves well over 100,000 more veterans, however,
who experience homelessness annually and must seek
assistance from local government agencies and community- and
faith-based service organizations. In its November 2007
"Vital Mission" report, the National Alliance to End
Homelessness estimated that up to about half a million
veterans have characteristics that put them in danger of
homelessness. These veterans may require supportive services
outside the scope of most VA homeless programs.
Since 1987, VAs
programs for homeless veterans have emphasized collaboration
with such community service providers to help expand
services to more veterans in crisis. These partnerships are
credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by
more than half over the past six years. More information
about VA homeless programs and initiatives can be found
What services do
Veterans need a
coordinated effort that provides secure housing, nutritional
meals, basic physical health care, substance abuse care and
aftercare, mental health counseling, personal development
and empowerment. Additionally, veterans need job assessment,
training and placement assistance.
NCHV strongly believes
that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on
helping them obtain and sustain employment.
What seems to work
The most effective
programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are
community-based, nonprofit, veterans helping
veterans groups. Programs that seem to work best
feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living
in structured, substance-free environments with fellow
veterans who are succeeding at bettering
while important, is currently limited, and available
services are often at capacity. It is critical, therefore,
that community groups reach out to help provide the support,
resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted:
housing, employment and health care. Veterans who
participate in collaborative programs are afforded more
services and have higher chances of becoming tax-paying,
productive citizens again.
What can I
- Determine the need
in your community. Visit with homeless veteran providers.
Contact your mayors office for a list of providers,
or search the NCHV database.
- Involve others. If
you are not already part of an organization, align
yourself with a few other people who are interested in
attacking this issue.
- Participate in
local homeless coalitions. Chances are, there is one in
your community. If not, this could be the time to bring
people together around this critical need.
- Make a donation to
your local homeless veteran provider.
- Contact your
elected officials. Discuss what is being done in your
community for homeless veterans.
Demographics and Estimated Numbers
What is the definition of homeless?
The United States Code
contains the official federal definition of homelessness,
which is commonly used because it controls federal funding
streams. In Title 42, Chapter 119, Subchapter 1, "homeless"
is defined as:
definition of homeless individual
For purposes of this
chapter, the term "homeless" or "homeless individual or
homeless person" includes
1. an individual who
lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;
2. an individual who
has a primary nighttime residence that is:
A. a supervised
publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide
temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels,
congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the
B. an institution that
provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to
be institutionalized; or
C. a public or private
place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular
sleeping accommodation for human beings."
Who is a
In general, most
organizations use the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA) eligibility criteria to determine which veterans can
access services. Eligibility for VA benefits is based upon
discharge from active military service under other than
dishonorable conditions. Benefits vary according to factors
connected with the type and length of military service. To
see details of eligibility criteria for VA compensation and
benefits, view the current benefits manual here.
Americans-Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve"
released Dec. 8, 1999, by the U.S. Interagency
Council on the Homeless (USICH) is the National
Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients
(NSHAPC), which was completed in 1996 and updated three
years later. You can download the NSHAPC reports at
highlights from the USICH report include:
- 23% of the
homeless population are veterans
- 33% of the male
homeless population are veterans
- 47% served
- 17% served
- 15% served
- 67% served three
or more years
- 33% were stationed
in war zone
- 25% have used VA
- 85% completed high
school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans
- 89% received an
- 79% reside in
- 16% reside in
- 5% reside in rural
- 76% experience
alcohol, drug or mental health problems
- 46% are white
males, compared to 34% of non-veterans
- 46% are age 45 or
older, compared to 20% non-veterans
Service needs cited
- 45% need help
finding a job
- 37% need help
How many homeless
veterans are there?
community-by-community are not available. Some communities
do annual counts; others do an estimate based on a variety
of factors. Contact the closest VA medical center's homeless
coordinator, the office of your mayor, or another presiding
official to get local information.
A regional breakdown
of numbers of homeless veterans, using data from VA's 2009
CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education
and Networking Groups) report which contains the most
widely cited estimate of the number of homeless veterans
can be found here
In May 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a
special report on incarcerated veterans. The following are
highlights of the report, Veterans
in State and Federal Prison, 2004,
which assessed data based on personal interviews conducted
- There were an
estimated 140,000 veterans held in state and federal
prisons. State prisons held 127,500 of these veterans,
and federal prisons held 12,500.
- Male veterans were
half as likely as other men to be held in prison (630
prisoners per 100,000 veterans, compared to 1,390
prisoners per 100,000 non-veteran U.S. residents). This
gap had been increasing since the 1980s.
- Veterans in both
state and federal prison were almost exclusively male (99
- The median age
(45) of veterans in state prison was 12 years older than
that of non-veterans (33). Non-veteran inmates (55
percent) were nearly four times more likely than veterans
(14 percent) to be under the age of 35.
- Veterans were much
better educated than other prisoners. Nearly all veterans
in state prison (91 percent) reported at least a high
school diploma or GED, while an estimated 40 percent of
non-veterans lacked either.
- The U.S. Army
accounted for 46 percent of veterans living in the United
States but 56 percent of veterans in state prison.
- In 2004, the
percentage of state prisoners who reported prior military
service in the U.S. Armed Forces (10 percent) was half of
the level reported in 1986 (20 percent).
- Most state prison
veterans (54 percent) reported service during a wartime
era, while 20 percent saw combat duty. In federal prison
two-thirds of veterans had served during wartime, and a
quarter had seen combat.
- Six in 10
incarcerated veterans received an honorable discharge.
- Veteran status was
unrelated to inmate reports of mental health problems.
- Combat service was
not related to prevalence of recent mental health
problems. Just over half of both combat and non-combat
veterans reported any history of mental health problems.
- Veterans were less
likely than non-veteran prisoners to have used drugs.
Forty-two percent of veterans used drugs in the month
before their offense compared to 58 percent of
- No relationship
between veteran status and alcohol dependence or abuse
- Veterans had
shorter criminal histories than non-veterans in state
- Veterans reported
longer average sentences than non-veterans, regardless of
- Over half of
veterans (57 percent) were serving time for violent
offenses, compared to 47 percent of non-veterans.
- Nearly one in four
veterans in state prison were sex offenders, compared to
one in 10 non-veterans.
- Veterans were more
likely than other violent offenders in state prison to
have victimized females and minors.
- More than a third
of veterans in state prison had maximum sentences of at
least 20 years, life or death.