Advocates Note Troubling Shift in Homeless Population Toward Young Veterans

Monday, 10 Dec 2012 11:35 AM

By Megan Anderle

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The results are in for the Obama’s administration’s latest push to combat homelessness among veterans: the number of ex-service members sleeping in parks, under bridges or in public spaces declined by 7 percent this year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) confirmed.

At the same time, the demographic of homeless veterans appears to be changing, with younger veterans — many who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — ending up on the streets, advocates say.

Army veteran Joe Leal is a homeless advocate and says the shift to a younger veteran homeless population is alarming.

“We house more Iraq and Afghanistan and younger veterans than older veterans. It used to be where a homeless vet was typically about 60 years old. Now, they’re 22 years old,” Leal told NBC News. “And a lot of them are female veterans who have witnessed combat. They are coming back messed up. They are coming back homeless.”

While the demographic shift is troubling for some, there is optimism among many homeless advocates.

The federal government and local communities have increased the number of beds available to the homeless over the last four years, either through emergency shelters or through government-subsidized apartments and houses, according to the report card.

However, the struggling economy contributed to the number of homeless people in the United States remaining stable between January 2011 and January 2012.

A full report, including a full tally of homeless Americans, was due out later Monday. The latest count by HUD estimates the number of homeless at 633,782. The year before, the number stood at slightly higher, at 636,000.

The Obama administration’s goal is to end veterans’ homelessness by 2015.

“This report continues a trend that clearly indicates we are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Advocates disagree, claiming there’s a long way to go to meet that goal.
“It’s great that we made progress ... but we’re obviously not going to end it by 2015 at this pace,” said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Offering financial help to former military members on the brink of eviction is one of the initiatives the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ has implemented. The agency estimates that by the end of this year, the $60 million program, Supportive Services for Veteran Families, will have helped 42,000 families, a spokesperson said.

Another initiative, which 40,000 veterans have used in the last two years, gives “eligible veterans” vouchers that allow them to pay for stays “in a residence of their own.”

“We have made good progress, but there is more work to do,” Taylor said in an email to NBC News.

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