Nearly one out of every ten homeless people in the United States is a veteran, and that ratio could soon grow, according to new numbers released last week by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
That’s because approximately 48,000 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been identified as either currently homeless or at risk for becoming homeless in the near future. To put that number in perspective, nearly two percent of the 2.4 million Americans who served in either war is on the cusp of homelessness, if not already there.
Veterans are uniquely at risk for homelessness due to a number of factors. Many return from the war zone with major health issues, both physical and mental. They are coming back at a time when jobs are too few and inequality is pervasive. And, as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans notes, “military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.”
These challenges are no less true for veterans today than they were for veterans of past wars. In fact, even as overall homelessness continues to decline both among veterans and non-veterans, the VA’s research underscores just how perilous the situation is for recent vets.
The VA is not sitting idly by, however. Last week, it announced it would continue funding the Supportive Services for Veterans Families program, which helps to prevent homelessness among at-risk veterans, to the tune of $600 million over the next two years.
The Obama administration has set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, but that challenge has already been met by two cities: Phoenix and Salt Lake City. They did so not with a silver bullet, but by making a concerted effort to identify their homeless veterans, get them into housing as quickly as possible, and provide them with supportive services, including job training and health care.
This isn’t only a more compassionate and just approach; it also saves taxpayers money. That’s because it’s far cheaper to give homeless people a place to live than it is to let them toil on the streets and pay for their resulting needs, whether they be emergency health care or legal issues.