Veteran Homelessness and How to End It

Posted May 18, 2012

Veteran Homelessness and How to End It

By: Rosanne Haggerty

Homelessness is among the most urgent problems facing our veterans. It is also among the most solvable. Simply put, veterans become homeless when various systems fail them. Upon returning home, they may struggle to find employment, obtain appropriate health care or secure treatment for war-related mental illness. Strengthening their access to these supports can keep many veterans from landing on the streets, but what should be done about those who are already there? Regardless of why a veteran becomes homeless, we know that with proper, often minimal support, nearly all can escape the streets and fully rejoin our communities.

Right now, on any given night, roughly 68,000 veterans are homeless in the United States. Within that number, a group of at least 14,000 have been homeless for a year or more and suffer from at least one chronic –and costly to treat- health condition. These long term, “chronically” homeless veterans typically don’t make it off the streets without specific, targeted help. Communities must commit to identifying them by name and prioritizing them, as well as those with life threatening health conditions, for housing assistance and access to an organized support system.

We also need to make federal housing assistance for homeless veterans easier to access and use. In many places, the bureaucratic red tape involved in qualifying a single homeless veteran for housing assistance can add as much as a year to the housing process. During that time, the veteran remains needlessly homeless. Congress recently increased funding for the most successful veterans housing assistance program, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH). Now, we must ensure that the program can be implemented quickly on the ground.  Some communities have developed innovative ways to qualify homeless veterans in as little as 30 days. This can and should be the national norm.

Finally, every community must track and measure its monthly progress in moving homeless vets into homes, a basic technique that is startlingly uncommon in most places. The over 120 communities participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign have adopted the shared goal of housing 2.5% of their chronically homeless neighbors each month, a benchmark that will put them on track to end chronic homelessness outright. Similarly clear, measurable, date-specific targets can drive the changes required locally to end homelessness among veterans.

In the last several years, thanks in part to the heroic efforts of the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless veterans in America has fallen by nearly two thirds on any given night, putting us closer than ever to ending veteran homelessness. We can finish the job if we focus on housing our neediest homeless veterans first, fast and consistently.

Rosanne Haggerty is President of Community Solutions (, which coordinates the 100,000 Homes Campaign (, a national movement of communities working together to end homelessness.