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Homelessness among Veterans


US forces participate in military campaigns all over the world. In such a way, they are constantly in need of recruits. However, after returning home, many of them cannot get their lives back to normal and are often homeless. Every fourth homeless person in the United States is a veteran, even though their number is only 11% (Estrine, Hettenbach, Arthur, & Messina, 2010). The problem of the homeless is relevant not only among the veterans of middle-age and elderly veterans. Young participants of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also frequent visitors of homeless shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, and employment services. The

society protecting the veterans has counted 1,500 homeless participants of the past and present wars, and reported that 400 of them have participated in programs aimed at eliminating homelessness (Estrine et al., 2010). Thus, the problem of homelessness among veterans is of high relevance and the government of the country should make all the efforts to solve it. The purpose of the current paper is to analyze literature on the issue of homelessness among veterans in the United States.

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The Scope of the Problem

American soldiers protect the civilian population of the United States, they guard over national interests, and fight in distant lands. However, quite frequently, when they return home, they stay without a roof over their head. Veterans survived fights, injuries, and lost friends. In such a way, it may be difficult to return to civilian life without professional assistance. However, each year, the US government allocates less money to provide the help to the veterans and many of them become homeless (Aiken & Belanger, 2013). According to the US law, a person is considered homeless if he/she does not have a constant suitable and adequate night’s lodging (McNamara, 2008). The category of homeless does not include people detained by the police and prisoners. A homeless person has the right to stay in public or private shelter (McNamara, 2008).

According to estimates of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless people in the United States is constantly growing (Deflem, 2012). There are also a great number of homeless veterans in the United States. However, as it is stated in the book Modern Homelessness: A Reference Handbook, “The US Department of Veterans Affairs noted that homelessness among veterans had been reduced from 195,000 to 107,000 over six years” (Hombs, 2011, p. 19). About 40% of the homeless men have previously served in the US Armed Forces – it is a symptomatic fact (Hombs, 2011). In general, about 34% of the adult male population has served in the army (Hombs, 2011). A study has found that 11% of the urban homeless people are veterans and participants of wars and armed conflicts (Hombs, 2011). Twenty states showed the biggest increase in the number of homeless veterans (Hombs, 2011). In such a way, the problem of homeless people and, especially, homeless veterans is extremely acute. More than half of the homeless people live in five states: California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts (Hombs, 2011). Los Angeles is considered to be the capital for the homeless veterans because of the favorable weather (Webb, 2014). The lack of affordable housing and the lack of housing assistance programs to the veterans are the most significant reasons for the growing number of homeless veterans in the United States (Levinson, 2004).

National alliance for the elimination of the problem of homelessness – a public non-profit organization has conducted a survey. It has found that in 2005, out of 744,313 homeless people who got a place in the shelter, about 2,000 were participants in the war (McNamara, 2008). Besides, not all of the homeless veterans can receive a place in shelters. Out of the total number of veterans seeking for night’s lodging, 37% did not receive help because shelters were full (McNamara, 2008).

Some human rights activists are worried because of the increase of homeless people. Moreover, there are many participants in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan among them (Deflem, 2012). According to them, this situation will lead to even greater problems in future. Ultimately, there is a surge of homeless veterans. Moreover, there are many mentally ill veterans who cannot find a job after their participation in the war (Fullerton & Ursano, 2009). The author Neil Shumsky states that “Thus, it appears that the personal risk of homelessness among veterans was due primary to the same factors as homelessness among Americans – poverty, joblessness, mental illness, and substance abuse” (Shumsky, 2012, p. 281). In the book Homelessness: A Documentary and Reference Guide, it is stated that the Vietnam War was part of the problem (Shumsky, 2012). However, when it was over, all the details were forgotten. The war ended, television ceased to illuminate this issue, and no one wanted to hear anything about it. Moreover, the veterans who participated in this war were also forgotten (Napoli, 2013). “War-zone stress among Vietnam-era veterans led to difficulties in readjusting to civilian life, to social isolation, and homelessness among white male veterans, according to the landmark National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study” (Committee on the Assessment of the Readjustment Needs of Military Personnel, Veterans, and Their Families, Institute of Medicine, Board on the Health of Select Populations., 2013, p. 340). The author, Neil Shumsky, affirms that “Surveys conducted during the 1980s, indicated that as many as half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era compared to only one-third of veterans in the general population” (Shumsky, 2012, p. 281).

The government of the United States claims that it will make all the efforts until every veteran who has fought for the country will have a place in America that can be called home. However, lots of veterans are still on the streets. Many of those who fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Vietnam cannot rebuild their lives after returning. Many people, who previously served, have health and mental problems, as well as alcohol and drug addiction. The author John Bruhn mentions that “About 45% of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and slightly more than 70% suffer from alcohol or other drug abuse problems” (Bruhn, 2011, p. 102). The government of the country should treat veterans with special respect. Thus, the motherland should be grateful for their service. However, volunteers and activists believe that the federal and local authorities are not doing enough for veterans. In these circumstances, veterans who ruined their health, while defending democracy and freedom have no choice as to rely on the assistance of charitable organizations (Coleman & Ganong, 2014).

The author Thomas Miller states that if there were no volunteer organizations through the country, the situation would be even worse (Miller, 2012). In different cities of the United States, these organizations invite homeless veterans to special meetings. Charitable organizations took these people under their protection. They started looking for jobs and temporary housing for the homeless veterans (Miller, 2012).

Actions of the Government

The government of the United States is doing everything possible to solve the problem of homeless veterans by constantly allocating money for their needs. However, this money is sorely lacking, and the number of homeless veterans is always growing. The government also pays attention to non-profit organizations that deal with the issues related to veterans. Nevertheless, the essence of the problem is not how to help homeless veterans, although, of course, it is also extremely important, but how to prevent the phenomenon of homelessness. The complex building legislation is at the heart of all the problems associated with homelessness (Padgett & Tsemberis, 2015). In the United States, there is no such program as affordable housing in numerous states. It is a fact that even for a person earning good money, it is problematic and very expensive to rent an apartment. An average price ranges start from $2,000. Buying an apartment is a bigger problem. Even for a native resident of the city, it is financially burdening to buy an apartment. Accordingly, if a person has some problems with finances, then he/she has to live on the street or in a shelter. Banks are also unlikely to provide new loans or mortgages to a person who has no permanent source of income. Furthermore, in the 70s-80s, in New York, a new era of building policy began and businessmen stopped building one-room budgetary apartments. The norms for psychiatric hospitals were also changed. Many of them became private. It led to the fact that the number of patients decreased from 85,000 to 27,000 people (Haskett, Perlman, & Cowan, 2013). In the book Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness: Current Practices and Future Directions, the authors state that, in fact, it means that 68% of people could not afford to pay for their treatment, and were forced to live on the street (Haskett et al., 2013). It also applies to veterans. As it was already noted, many of them have returned after military operations in different countries with a variety of mental illnesses. As psychiatric hospitals are full, they have to live on the streets.

Large construction firms and real estate developers do not see any sense to develop special programs for affordable housing, and the democratic government cannot force them (Colby, Dulmus, & Sowers 2013). Shelters, rooming house, and rehabilitation programs for the veterans are good. However, only state can solve the problem with a growing number of homeless veterans.

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Human rights and non-profit organizations can provide them with temporary living conditions and work. However, only the government of the United States can change the current situation. Without the resources of the state, all these organizations can solve only a small part of the problems, associated with the phenomenon of homelessness among the veterans. Moreover, their solutions only have a temporary effect. Of course, the United States is not the only country with homeless veterans. However, it is the only country where their number is extremely large and keeps constantly growing. To address the problems with homeless veterans, the government of the country needs to solve problems in the housing sector, as well as issues of employment and health care (Schutt & Garrett, 2013). The author Shane Bush affirms that it is necessary to completely alter the whole social system of the United States (Bush, 2014). It is necessary to start from the housing sector, where homeowners have, in fact, an absolute power over the people, to the sphere of protection of the rights of people with disabilities and people with mental disorders (Bush, 2014). There should be also a reform of the US Army. The government of the United States should implement various breaks and benefits for the participants of various US military campaigns (Bush, 2014). Despite many problems, different organizations and common people believe that the government of the country will solve the problem with homeless veterans. In the book Handbook of Military Social Work, the authors state that “This is an era of renewed hope that the United States will meet the social-political challenge to prevent and end homelessness among veterans” (Rubin, Weiss, & Coll, 2012, p. 114).


These days, the problem of homeless veterans is extremely acute, and their number keeps constantly growing. Many veterans returning from various military campaigns face a number of different problems. The biggest problem consists in the fact that many of them have serious mental diseases. Thus, it is difficult for them to adapt to normal living conditions. The veterans cannot live with their families and become homeless. As the mental hospitals are always full, they cannot turn for help. In the United States, there are many non-profit organizations that help the veterans. However, their efforts are not enough. Only the government of the country is able to solve the problem with the homeless veterans. Nevertheless, according to the opinion of people, it is not enough.