Despite Efforts, Thousands Of Vets Across The Country Remain Homeless

Homeless veteran James Thomas, 62, who was sleeping along the Miami River, talks with officials from the Veteran's Administration during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Homeless veteran James Thomas, 62, who was sleeping along the Miami River, talks with officials from the Veteran’s Administration during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MINNEAPOLIS — Despite the success of some nationwide efforts at ending homelessness among veterans, as many as 50,000 remain homeless.

Because of the transient nature of the homeless population, exact figures are hard to come by. But a January 2014 report from the Housing and Urban Development Department cited the annual Point-in-Time Count of homeless individuals in the U.S., which said 49,933 veterans are homeless in America each day. This figure marked a decline of 33 percent (or 24,837 people) since similar figures were collected by the department in 2010.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans noted that other statistics, drawn from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, suggest that homeless veterans are overwhelmingly male, with women representing just 8 percent of homeless veterans. The group noted other findings, as well:

“The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 12% of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Roughly 40% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.”

Meanwhile, campaigns to reduce homeless populations seem to be yielding positive results. HUD is giving almost $12 million to promote placement of veterans in local public housing, and, on Monday, the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, announced a plan to house 25 veterans under the HUD program, according to local news outlet Channel3000.com.

Also on Monday, representatives of HUD and Veterans Affairs celebrated landmark efforts by Las Cruces, New Mexico, to eliminate homelessness among veterans, reported Las Cruces-Sun News. Las Cruces is one of just 13 cities in the United States to reach a level of veteran homelessness that government officials call “functional zero.” Though this marks a major reduction, it doesn’t mean the problem is eliminated, according to Nicole Martinez, executive director of a Las Cruces-area service center for the homeless:

“While we’re seeing reduced numbers, we know veterans will still experience homelessness. To our veterans who have served our county, we do not intend to take our eyes off of that goal.”

Writing in August from New Orleans, another city that’s reached “functional zero” status, NPR News correspondent Quil Lawrence noted that one can still find “a Marine sleeping under the expressway.” Nevertheless, it’s apparent that the city has grown far more agile at mobilizing resources to help veterans who slip through the cracks, according to Melissa Haley, director of supportive services at Volunteers of America in New Orleans:

“‘Homelessness is a continuous process. There’s a veteran right now who is in a home who could very well be homeless tomorrow … Functional zero is defined as having a process and the resources in place where we can immediately house a veteran.’

So if a vet loses a job today, misses the rent and gets evicted in New Orleans, the city can get him or her housed within a month. Haley says it’s often faster; they got Marine Corps veteran Ronald Engberson housed in one day.”

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