Washington, D.C. â€“ [January 31, 2007] â€“ A report released today by a coalition of advocates for homeless persons finds that affordable permanent housing coupled with supportive services provides a powerful tool for preventing and ending homelessness among veterans, particularly those who confront chronic disabling health problems such as mental illness, substance addiction, and HIV/AIDS.
The report outlines the tragic magnitude of veteransâ€™ homelessness, including those now returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Highlights include:
Nearly 200,000 veterans may be homeless on any given night and twice that many veterans experience homelessness during the year.
Homeless male veterans are more likely to be homeless for an extended period of time than homeless male non-veterans. The report notes that 32 percent of homeless male veterans reported that their last homeless episode lasted 13 or more months compared to 17 percent of male homeless non-veterans.
Homeless housing and service providers attending the event reported that they are already serving returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at local emergency shelters, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-financed transitional housing programs, and local permanent supportive housing projects. Participants noted that while it is too soon to have a complete picture, evidence suggests that unique risk factors for homelessness and mental illness will confront veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
These factors include a housing market that is far tighter and more costly than it was in the Vietnam era. Expert observers also contend that the nature of the current conflicts, including the near-complete blurring of combat versus non-combat zones, will generate higher rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health traumas. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association documented that 19 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq screened positive for the signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder.
Another unique issue facing organizations that provide services to homeless veterans is the new reality that by 2010 women will comprise nearly 10% of the total veteran population, a change that will present new challenges (e.g. experience of sexual harassment/assault) for a veteransâ€™ assistance system and for homeless veterans providers accustomed to providing services to a predominantly male client population.Â