A U.S. military veteran who becomes homeless is more likely to remain that way longer, and has a greater chance of dying on the streets, than a homeless non-veteran, according to recently a recent report.
That stark assessment was part of a conclusion of a survey conducted in 102 cities nationwide by the 100,000 Homes Campaign and released this month. The survey interviewed 23,000 individuals, 3,493 of whom were veterans.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign is a drive to place 100,000 homeless in shelter by 2013. Among the New Jersey locations taking part in that drive are Morristown, New Brunswick, Newark and Bergen County. So far, the drive has housed 11,225 individuals.
The campaign’s assessment of veterans and homelessness is blunt: “As a group, veterans were 11 percentage points more likely to suffer from at least one condition linked to increased risk of death among the homeless population, which means the men and women who risked their lives defending America may be far more likely to die on its streets.”
This week, Patch takes a look at the lives of Morris County’s service members and veterans, for our special report, Morris and the Military.
The survey determined, “among those who reported spending two or more years homeless, veterans reported an average of nearly nine years homeless, compared to just over seven for non-veterans. Length of homelessness matters because the longer people spend on the streets, the more health risks they tend to develop,” the report said.
Further, the report said, “among the 62 percent of homeless veterans who reported two or more years of homelessness, over 61 percent reported a serious physical health condition, 55 percent reported a mental health condition, 76 percent reported a substance abuse habit, and 32 percent reported all three.”
Annual surveys say that in New Jersey there are roughly 6,500 homeless veterans. In Morris County, the number has averaged 60 to 75 annually in recent years.
Morris County social service providers are aware that the convergence of numerous factors–joblessness, substance abuse, mental and physical health issues, readjustment concerns or post traumatic stress–can result in putting a veteran on the street.
Lisa Falcone, a homeless specialist with the Morris County Mental Health Association, said there is a rising consciousness in the county about the plight of homeless veterans.
The mental health association organizes the annual Point in Time homeless count held in January and Project Homeless Connect event, which this year will be held Dec. 8 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown.
“We get a benefit from Project Homeless Connect,” Falcone said. “We get veterans identified, and get a handle on their needs.”
The event is not just a way for the county’s homeless population to get coats or clothing, or a few personal services and health check-ups, she said, but has become a key event to connect persons in need with the agencies that can provide help.
“The homeless problem is growing every year,” she said. “In the past two years we are seeing younger veterans in need of housing. This is an issue for reserve units who at the end of their deployments maybe lost their jobs, maybe because of multiple deployments.”
The key issues are the lack of affordable housing combined with the loss of their jobs, she said.
In January, 317 people were counted as being homeless in Morris County, up 13.5 percent from 2007.
Using a nationally accepted multiplier that says four times as many people are homeless as are counted at any one time, it could mean that there are 1,121 homeless adults and children in Morris County at some point this year.
Of that number, 6.5 percent were identified as veterans, meaning that in January, 21 Morris County veterans were homeless, and that at some point 73 Morris veterans could be homeless this year.
But Morris is a rich county, with an annual median family income greater than $96,000 and a 2 percent poverty rate. Veterans, though, can fall into that income range of $20,000 to $60,000, identified by the United Way of Northern New Jersey as 30 percent of the county’s population.
That population can slide into homelessness more easily than higher income groups because they as a rule have fewer reserves and a single event like the loss of a job or a health issue can erode their wellbeing.
Monarch Housing Associates, a New Jersey-based housing advocate, released on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, its annual assessment of the national issue of homeless veterans.
- 35 out of every 10,000 veterans are homeless.
- 76,000 veterans are homeless on any given night in the United States.
- 145,000 veterans use homeless housing programs every year.
- On a single night in January 2010, 76,329 veterans were living in emergency shelter, in transitional housing, or in an unsheltered place–on the streets, in cars, or in abandoned buildings. Approximately 57 percent of those homeless on a single night were sheltered–in emergency shelter or transitional housing–and 43 percent were unsheltered.
- During a 12-month period between October 2009 and September 2010, an estimated 144,842 veterans spent at least one night in emergency shelter or transitional housing programs, accounting for 11.5 percent of all homeless adults.
- In 2010, homeless veterans accounted for 1 in 150 veterans and about 1 in 9 veterans living in poverty.
A network of agencies in Morris County works to help veterans, among them the Morris County Division of Aging, Disabilities and Veterans, the Mental Health Association of Morris County, and the United Way, which with partners the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, Family Service of Morris County and Arsenal, provides its Front Line Fund.Picatinny
That fund since 2010 has provided counseling services through Family Service for 60 families, including 12 which received emergency funds to avoid foreclosure or evictions and pay food or utility bills.
Community Hope, Inc. of Parsippany, since 2004 has operated the Hope for Veterans transitional housing program at Veterans Affairs New Jersey Healthcare Campus at Lyons, which has helped 520 veterans end homelessness.
The program offers transitional housing for up to two years, and offers recovery services for substance abuse and depression or post traumatic stress, case management services for health, and access to job programs and computer training.
Michael Armstrong, Community Hope’s chief executive officer, said these are the “underlying issues” that make a veteran’s transition from combat service civilian life so difficult for some.
Community Hope is also awaiting final approval to develop Valley Brook Village, a 64-unit village on a vacant parcel of land at the Lyons VA campus with its partners EA Fish Development and Veterans Inc.
The project is slated to be the first sizeable permanent housing and support services development for homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness in New Jersey. The plans for Valley Brook Village include one- and two-bedroom units suitable for seniors and handicapped veterans and a community residence for resident activities, support service staff, and employment programs.
Community Hope was also given a $1 million grant by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to take part in a new program, Supportive Services for Veteran Families.
The agency expects to help 140 veteran families in Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties to avoid homelessness or rapidly return such families to housing.
Financial assistance could take the form of payment of back rent, mortgage or utility bills, or assistance to avoid foreclosure or eviction.
Support could also come in the form of daycare services, links to medical services, behavioral and recovery services for veterans experience the effects of combat, and other services to help the families establish and maintain financial stability.
When the grant was announced in November, Armstrong said, “What has led these veterans families into difficulty keeping their home? Is it a job loss or a returning veteran that is struggling to re-acclimate? This is where we can help them in getting them with the employment services to get back to work or linking them to a support group or recovery services that will help them start healing from the trauma of combat.”