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How Veterans Become Homeless?

There have been great strides in reducing the unhoused veteran population over the last decade, but one homeless vet is one too many. To keep this number moving in the right direction, it is important to understand the risk factors of homelessness. It helps us all identify ways to help homeless veterans in your family, community, and across the nation.

Row of American Flags

What Is Homelessness?

Let’s begin with what homelessness is and how it is calculated. Many are transitioning to the term “unhoused” to impart greater dignity and humanity, but both terms are acceptable. Whichever term you prefer, both refer to someone who is living:

  • On the streets.

  • In encampments.

  • In their vehicle.

  • In an emergency shelter.

  • In short-term transitional housing.

  • In an uninhabitable location, such as an abandoned building.

It doesn’t refer to those who are couch surfing or living in other uncertain or day-to-day housing arrangements, such as a motel.

How Many Veterans Are Experiencing Homelessness?

Over the last decade, the Veteran’s Association has drastically increased its outreach, funding, and support. They work more with non-profits and federal, state, and local agencies to expand employment opportunities and provide affordable housing.

Even with the increased support, on any given night, there are at least 37,000 veterans without a safe and healthy place to sleep. This number is down about 45% between 2009 and 2017, with a bit of an uptick since the pandemic. Regardless of the decline, the number is astronomically high.


  • Are 50% more likely to become homeless than a non-vet.

  • Will remain unhoused for an average of 6 years, compared to an average of 4 years among non-veterans.

  • Are between 10% and 17% of the homeless population.

  • Are 91% men and 9% women.

  • Are 56% African-American or Hispanic.

Now, let’s dive into the reasons for the increased risk factors so that we can work together to find meaningful ways to help homeless veterans.

Homeless Risk Factors

Many of our veterans are experiencing more than one of the risk factors below:

  • Lack of quality employment—vets have multiple transferable skill sets, but too few employers acknowledge military service as job experience or college equivalency. Post-discharge, vets are eligible for unemployment benefits, but these benefits aren’t enough to live on and only last for 26 weeks in most states.

  • Lack of affordable housing—the nationwide housing crisis negatively impacts all demographics. Since vets can’t find high-paying jobs, they are at an increased risk. Also, 1 in 5 vets live alone which further increases financial strain.

  • Social isolation/no support system—friends and family often can’t relate to the challenges of transitioning to daily life and not all service members have a healthy support system to begin with. Those living alone may feel isolated even if they have a support system.

  • Physical disability—even if medically discharged, the monthly disability benefits aren’t always enough to live on and take up to 8 months to process. In the meantime, some are left unhoused. Even those who can continue to work face increased employment challenges. To few employers hire disabled employees, even if they are veterans.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder—this anxiety-driven trauma response can set in weeks, months, or years after being discharged, or it may be present before discharge. It decreases employability and has a variety of ripple effects.

  • Ripple-effects of PTSD—PTSD increases the risk of addiction, depression, domestic abuse, and behaviors that lead to the loss of a healthy support system.

It’s clear, we must find ways to help homeless veterans, but also those living on the brink of homelessness.

The Number of Vets Living on the Brink of Homelessness Are also too High

In addition to those who are currently homeless, 1.5 million veterans are at-risk of homelessness. This includes the number of vets living at or below the poverty level, which means they earn 30% less (or more) than their regional average income. Over 40% of vets receive food stamps to get by.

Those on the brink include those who are paying 50% or more of their household income on their rent or house payment. Rent or house payments should be no more than 30% of the household income. There are currently around 467,877 vets paying more than 50% of their income on rent.

Why Are African Americans and Hispanic Vets at a Higher Risk for Homelessness?

Before entering the military, black and Hispanic civilians were at a greater risk of socioeconomic inequity, therefore a higher risk of homelessness. After their time in service, these marginalized communities reenter the systematic structures of oppression.

This makes it even harder for black and Hispanic vets to find equitable employment than white vets. Yet, another reason to find ways to help homeless veterans, regardless of their ethnicity.

How PTSD Influences Homelessness?

Combat related threat of injury or death is the most common cause of PTSD for military members. For most, their symptoms will set in once they return home. For some, their symptoms will set in prior to being discharged—and may be the reason for discharge.

PTSD changes the body’s response to stress and how stress hormones and other chemicals carry information to the nerves.

  • Reliving the event in nightmares that disrupt sleep.

  • Reliving the event in flashbacks that disrupt everyday life.

  • Avoidance that leads to numbing with addictive substances.

  • Irritation that can lead to difficulty concentrating or angry outbursts.

In addition, some PTSD is triggered by the risk factors mentioned after vets get home. The trauma of transitioning to civilian life, feelings of loneliness, the uncertainty of financial strain, and being homeless can lead to a trauma response.

Isn’t This Just an Issue for Vietnam Vets?

The way we fight wars is undoubtedly different, but the trauma is still the same. Thankfully, the military now recognizes PTSD as a disability. But still, we need to do more for our country’s finest.

According to the US Army:

  • Approximately 30% of those who served in Vietnam suffer from PTSD.

  • Approximately 12% of those who served in the Gulf suffer from PTSD.

  • Between 11% and 20% of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD.

Approximately 45% of the 1.6 million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking disability compensation. If approved, they may receive anywhere from a few hundred dollars a month to $3,000+. This is determined on a scale of sorts, estimating how “disabled” vets are by a percentage.

Want to Help Our Vets?

Armored Souls Inc. is a California-based non-profit. Our organization serves vets living in encampments and shelters, providing access to medical services for those who don’t qualify for full medical care through the VA. This includes transportation to and from their appointments.

Reach out today to donate or to learn the different ways you can help us help our homeless veterans!


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