Fifty-six percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, with Blacks constituting thirty-four percent of the total number of homeless veterans.
These men and women have served in wars ranging from World War II until the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the majority having served in the Vietnam War, which accounts for about half of the homeless veterans in the United States.
Veterans experience homelessness at a vastly superior rate than their non-veteran counterparts, but the overwhelming disparity of African Americans to their fellow countrymen is troublesome.
According to a report conducted by the U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless, “Forty-seven percent served during the Vietnam era while seventeen percent served post-Vietnam and fifteen percent served pre-Vietnam respectively.”
John Driscoll, President & CEO, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says the now-abandoned Army draft is why African Americans represent such a large segment of homeless veterans.
“We know that black veterans are over represented in the homeless veteran population, but there has been marketed improvement since the study in 1999,” Driscoll said. “The study in 1999 showed that 54% of all homeless veterans were minorities, but the overwhelming majority of those were African Americans. The actual percentage at that time for black Americans was about 47%. Keep in mind, the Vietnam War was the last one to have a draft and we know the draft was capturing a large amount of people from disadvantaged communities so you had a high representation of African Americans in the draft population and all ethnic groups who were coming from poverty and areas that didn't have good job opportunities. Those were the communities that the draft had its strongest reach.”
The Urban Institute contracted with the Federal Government to do the first national survey on homeless veterans in 1996, called the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients. When survey data was published three years later, it was revealed that one third of the homeless men in the country were veterans and one fourth of the homeless persons in the country were veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates today that 67,000 veterans are homeless on a nightly basis.
There are a number of issues facing these homeless veterans such as the lack of affordable housing, access to stable health care and a consistent amount of income. Additionally, a considerate amount of veterans are living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. Many of these veterans face these problems head on without the proper channels of support and resources.
U.S. Congressman Robert C. Scott, (D-VA) sheds some light on the issues many veterans deal with once they return home.
“It varies from veteran to veteran,” Scott said. “Some need psychological services, some need job training and some need financial support. We have to make sure our veterans are getting those services. These are services that will enable them to get jobs. When there’s a 9% unemployment rate for everyone and almost double that in the African-American community, it’s hard enough for people who aren’t veterans. Then you add on the fact that many of them haven’t been in the civilian workforce and have post traumatic stress disorder that they’re living with day-to-day. So you have all of those things going on it just makes it harder for them.”
There are close to 500 organizations that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to assist homeless veterans. These organizations provide veterans with stable housing, personal counseling, substance abuse treatment, access to healthcare, and employment assistance. The Department of Labor has about 120 employment assistance programs that help veterans with training and employment preparation assistance. They help close to 14,000 homeless veterans each year to go from homeless to unemployed status to steady employment.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is funding the (HUD-VASH) supported housing vouchers. These are section 8 vouchers dedicated to homeless veterans with mental illness, other disabilities and extreme low income. This program is aimed to assist them with housing stability and the opportunity to turn their lives around. Most veterans have disabilities when they move into specialized housing, but through housing stability they're afforded the chance to obtain high paying jobs and advancements in their employment. Many of these veterans will progress to independent housing and those same vouchers will become available for the next round of veterans who are in need.
Through the implementation of these programs, Driscoll has seen the changes in numbers for homeless black veterans.
“African American representation among homeless veterans has decreased from 47% to 34% according to the latest estimates by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Driscoll said. “So that shows improvement, but that's still a high number and an over representation. We also think that number coming down is important because for a while we were concerned that maybe in spite of how far we've come in the Civil Rights Movement that the barriers were still so strong that many of these veterans were not going to get over the obstacles, but now we feel like that might not be so true.”
The Obama administration has placed an emphasis on combating not only homelessness among veterans, but for the U.S. population. Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs has made a pledge to end homelessness by 2015. The federal investment over the past 10 years has driven the number of homeless veterans down from 250,000 in 2004 to about 76,000. By June 30, 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs wants to suppress the number to 59,000. For the fiscal year 2012, the Department has requested $140 million more than the previous year’s budget.
Members of Congress have recently put forth legislation in the House of Representatives and the Senate to address the problems many current veterans face once they return home from war. Congressman Al Green (D-TX) introduced the Homes for Heroes Act, which would expand the supply of supportive housing for low-income veteran families and extend VA supported housing. This bill was passed by Congress on March 27th. Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has also introduced the Mandatory Transition Assistance Act, which would require the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to make participation in Transition Assistance Programs mandatory for every branch of service upon discharge.
U.S. Congressman Robert C. Scott, (D-VA) stresses the importance of taking care of veterans.
“We owe it to our veterans to make the investments because they are the ones who have risked their lives for our freedom,” Scott said. “They should have the opportunity to be able to have affordable housing. These are people who risk their lives in a volunteer army for our freedom. The idea that you have veterans who are homeless should really outrage people. These are people who should be honored. We can’t desert them after they’ve risked their lives in service to our nation. We can’t turn around and ignore their plight.”
Chris Williams is an internationally-published journalist that covers topics of politics, race, culture, entertainment and world events. His work has been seen in 200 different newspapers and various magazines. You can follow him on Twitter @CWmsWrites