By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
As wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, federal officials are seeing a growing number of young veterans on the street, according to a joint homeless study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs released Friday.
About 13,000 of the nation’s homeless in 2010 were ex-servicemembers between ages 18 and 30, a disproportionately large number of the nation’s overall homeless veteran population, the study says.
“These findings are particularly concerning given the anticipated number of new veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq,” the study concludes.
The Army expects to cut its forces by about 50,000 over the next year or two after pulling troops out of Iraq by December and continuing a drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.
The HUD-VA study noted that while young veterans make up only about 5% of the nation’s veteran population, they constitute nearly 9% of all former servicemembers who are homeless.
The Department of Veterans Affairs blames the rise in young veterans without shelter on a poor economy and an unprecedented pattern of lengthy warfare in which troops are deployed to combat multiple times.
“The key thing about this is we’re trying to figure out how to prevent homelessness among veterans, especially for individuals coming back from the wars,” says Mark Johnston, a HUD official who oversees homeless programs.
Peter Dougherty, a senior policy adviser on homelessness at the VA, said earlier this year that an estimated 20%-30% of all homeless veterans have been in combat.
The new study notes that the overall population of homeless veterans has remained largely stable in recent years, with an estimated 145,000 spending at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program over a 12-month period ending in 2010. That is roughly 12% of all homeless adults, the study says.
Both agencies credit federal programs targeting this population for minimizing the growth of the homeless vet population, especially in light of an economic downturn.
The population shifts daily. On one night in January 2010, HUD officials counted 76,329 veterans living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings.
The majority of homeless veterans are white males between ages 31 and 61 who suffer some disability, the report says. Half of all homeless veterans live in California, Florida, New York and Texas.
A VA program helps provide payments to landlords, utility companies, child care providers and other services for low-income veterans and their families moving into permanent housing.
Other federal efforts target veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with assistance in housing, health care and employment services, or directly providing housing for veterans with disabilities, along with case management, mental health services and substance abuse treatment.
About 32,500 homeless veterans have been housed under VA programs, according to the department. A new, $60 million initiative is aimed at preventing veterans with families from being without shelter.
“We’re looking to end homelessness among the men and women who wore our nation’s uniform — not reduce or redefine it — but end it,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan says.