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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Overview of Homelessness in the Veteran Population

Homeless Veteran 

National Figures:

  • According to a count in January 2011, there were 67,495 homeless Veterans.
  • An estimated 144,842 Veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program in one recent year.
  • Many other Veterans are considered at risk of homelessness because of poverty, lack of support from family and friends, substance use or mental health issues, and precarious living conditions.
  • Although many homeless Veterans served in combat in Vietnam and suffer from PTSD; at this time, epidemiologic studies do not suggest that there is a causal connection between military service, service in Vietnam, or exposure to combat and homelessness among Veterans. Rather than military service, family background, access to support from family and friends, and various personal characteristics seem to be the stronger indicators of risk of homelessness.
  • The majority of homeless Veterans come from poor, disadvantaged backgrounds. About half suffer from mental illness and more than two-thirds suffer from alcohol or drug use problems. Nearly 40% have both psychiatric and substance use disorders. Roughly 56% are African American or Hispanic.
  • A total of 20,184 Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) have been identified as homeless by VA during the past five years. The number of homeless Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan is increasing; but constitutes 5.5% of the overall homeless population.
  • VA is the only federal agency that provides substantial hands-on assistance directly to Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Although they are limited to Veterans and their dependents, VA's major homeless programs constitute the largest integrated network of homeless assistance programs in the country.
  • Each year, VA’s specialized homelessness programs provide health care to almost 150,000 homeless Veterans and other services to more than 112,000 Veterans.
  • More than 40,000 homeless Veterans receive VA compensation or pension benefits each month.

Houston Figures:

  • 28% of Houston homeless population are Veterans (approximately 3,600).
  • 5-10% of Houston homeless population are women Veterans.
  • Increasing number of Veterans with young families.
  • About 45% of homeless Veterans suffer from mental illness and, with considerable overlap, slightly more than 70% suffer from alcohol or other drug abuse problems.
  • 150-250 walk-ins at McGovern Drop-In Center each month.
  • MEDVAMC provided homeless services to approximately 2,000 Veterans in 2011, and are increasing efforts to reach individuals who traditionally avoid assistance.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and our partners in the community are committed to the struggle against chronic homelessness among our Nation’s Veterans. We have the health care experts, programs, and resources to help Veterans take that next step and start a new life.