Those Experiencing Homelessness
How do we know who is homeless? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] released an updated definition in January 2016. To be chronically homeless an individual must meet several criteria. (Read More)
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research shows that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. A majority of veterans are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. Veterans represent 11% of the adult homeless population. Roughly 45% 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.
Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.
America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years and one-third were stationed in a war zone.
About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. In addition to a complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – an extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment. A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol.
Family homelessness is often caused by tragic life occurrences like the loss of loved ones, job loss, divorce, domestic violence and/or family disputes. Other impairments such as depression, untreated mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], and physical disabilities also are responsible for a large portion of the homeless.
For those living in poverty or close to the poverty line, an "everyday" life issue that may be manageable for individuals with a higher income can be the final factor in placing an individual on the street. A broken down vehicle, lack of vehicle insurance or even unpaid tickets might be just enough to render someone homeless. Divorce costs and the associated lowering of a family's total income can cause one or more family members to become homeless.
For families that can hardly pay their bills, a serious illness or disabling accident may deplete their funds and push them out onto the street. Today, the rapid, unexpected loss of jobs and resultant foreclosures has caused great dislocation among families and has dramatically added to the number of people without stable housing.
Causes of homelessness among youth fall into three inter-related categories: family problems, economic problems, and residential instability. Many homeless youth leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect. Disruptive family conditions are the principal reason why young people leave home. In a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS] study more than half the youth interviewed during shelter stays reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving and did not care.
In another Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS] study, 46% of runaway and homeless youth were physically abused and 17% were forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member. Some youth may become homeless when their families suffer financial crises resulting from lack of affordable housing, limited employment opportunities, insufficient wages, no medical insurance or inadequate welfare benefits. These youth become homeless with their families, and are later separated from them by shelter, transitional housing or child welfare policies (Shinn and Weitzman).
For more information about HUD Definitions Related to Homeless Youth, click here.
LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) individuals face a particular set of challenges, both in becoming homeless as well as when they are trying to avoid homelessness. LGBT persons face social stigma, discrimination and often rejection by their families, which adds to the physical and mental strains and challenges all homelessness persons struggle with. Frequently, homeless LGBT persons have greater difficulty finding shelters that accept and respect them. LGBT individuals experiencing homelessness are often at a heightened risk of violence, abuse and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Transgender people are particularly at physical risk due to a lack of acceptance and are often turned away from shelters. In some cases signs are posted barring their entrance.