The hidden crisis of veterans without a home

They are the guardians of democracy. They are the protectors of freedom. They are the good guys and gals fighting for justice. They are our veterans, and thousands of them are struggling.

It’s time to shine a spotlight on the hidden crisis of veterans experiencing homelessness.

Perceptions of homelessness

Homelessness is neither a new concept nor is it just affecting veterans. In January 2019, Providence surveyed more than 850 consumers to capture insights on how they perceived the homelessness crisis in America. Below are some key points from that study:

  • 17% feel homelessness and poverty is the top social problem (behind health care for all at 21%)
  • 75% see homelessness as people living in tent cities; 64% said living in a car
  • 80% feel solving the homeless crisis is the responsibility of the federal government; while 12% indicated it’s the responsibility of health care organizations

Homelessness is an issue that impacts every American. It’s a 1:1 societal issue with no consensus on who’s responsible or how to solve it.

Homelessness is an issue that impacts every American. It’s a 1:1 societal issue with no consensus on who’s responsible or how to solve it. “Homelessness is one of the most pressing public health crises in our nation,” said Dora Barilla, GVP, Community Health Investment at Providence. Learn more about the perception study and how Providence is responding to homelessness.

A brief history of homelessness in America

The concept of homelessness broke into the national consciousness in the 1870s during the reconstruction era, and continued through the Great Depression and beyond. Known as “tramps,” “vagabonds” or “hobos” at the time, the world came to see people who were experiencing homelessness as lazy, incorrigible, or shiftless [1]. These labels created a stigma of homelessness that has been hard to shake in America.

While there may be no direct correlation between military service and homelessness, there can be little doubt that the experiences of war contribute to many of the underpinning challenges faced by veterans who return home from deployment and experience homelessness.

The next major wave of the homeless narrative began when America went to war. From World Wars I and II to the Vietnam War, many veterans returning home from service found themselves without a secure place to call home. While there may be no direct correlation between military service and homelessness, there can be little doubt that the experiences of war contribute to many of the underpinning challenges faced by veterans who return home from deployment and experience homelessness [2].

Assessing the homeless situation for veterans

Across America, there are currently more than 600,000 people experiencing homelessness [3]. Based on January 2019 data, there are 37,085 veterans experiencing homelessness, a 43% decrease since 2011 [4]. Moreover, approximately 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk of becoming homeless due to poverty, lack of affordable housing and of robust support networks [5]. The Military Wallet, an organization focused on helping the military community manage money and understand the benefits available to them, the veteran population is two times more likely to become chronically homeless than other American groups.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 17 of 10,000 veterans experienced homelessness in a given night during 2019. Nearly all of the veterans experiencing homelessness are single, 6 in 10 are staying in sheltered locations, and 24% of veterans who are classified as home insecure are exhibiting chronic patterns of homelessness [6].

Like any person experiencing homelessness, there are a wide array of factors contributing to their situation. For veterans, some of the key causes include lack of affordable housing, economic hardship (unemployment), war injuries, and mental health issues.

Like any person experiencing homelessness, there are a wide array of factors contributing to their situation. For veterans, some of the key causes include lack of affordable housing, economic hardship (unemployment), war injuries, and mental health issues. To help our nation’s heroes, holistic thinking is critical.    

Where do things currently stand?

There is hope. Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts a Point-in-Time (PIT) count to estimate how many Americans, including veterans, are experiencing housing insecurity. The January 2019 [7] count (most recent) found the following positive trends:

  • A 2.1% decrease in the estimated number of unhoused veterans nationwide
  • A decline of nearly 50% (since 2010) in the estimated number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the U.S.
  • Over 11,000 veterans that have found permanent housing and support services via the HUD-VASH program

Housing is health

Homelessness is a pressing social issue in virtually every corner of America. The stigma of homelessness is an undeserved burden for veterans who have lost their stable housing. Although homelessness for our veterans is starting to show a downward trend, there is still work to be done. Together we can help find ways to provide stable, affordable housing while respecting the value and worth of every individual. At Providence, we believe housing is health and it is our mission to treat all humans with compassion. People experiencing homelessness are not invisible. They are humans with dignity that deserve to be seen as equals.

We hope you’ll join us and our partners to find ways to address homelessness in America. Learn more about how Providence is working to respond and how you can get involved.

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Related resources

State of homelessness: 2020 Edition

Housing and the role of hospitals

Missed opportunities: Youth homelessness in America

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.


Sources:

[1] See National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519584/

[3] See The Military Wallet infographic https://themilitarywallet.com/homeless-veterans-in-america/

[5] See National Coalition for Homeless Veterans http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/

[6] See U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/2019-AHAR-Part-1.pdf

[7] See U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2019 PIT count report https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/pit_count.asp

About the Author

The Providence News Team brings you the updates to keep you informed about what's happening across the organizational ecosystem. From partnerships to new doctor announcements, we are committed to keeping you informed.

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