Ranks of homeless vets could grow as troops return from war, advocates fear
May 20, 2006
WASHINGTON — Advocates for homeless veterans see too many veterans of the war on terrorism returning with stress disorders and not enough funds for military-to-civilian transition programs.
And they worry that could mean more troops added to the ranks of the homeless.
“Our network of service providers is already seeing (Iraq and Afghanistan) veterans,” said Cheryl Beversdorf, president of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, at a congressional forum on the issue Thursday.
“Many are not at the point where they are homeless yet, and are looking for ways to prevent that. But statistics show that, over time, if this isn’t addressed they’ll end up homeless.”
NCHV officials have been collecting anecdotal reports of homeless veterans of the war on terrorism since 2004, and last fall announced that at least 125 recently separated servicemembers have ended up without a job or a home.
Thursday’s event, organized by Democratic members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was designed to highlight ways to improve transitional housing, job training and other programs geared toward homeless and destitute veterans.
Department of Veterans Affairs officials estimate that about 200,000 veterans are currently living on the streets, but said their programs reach only about half that number each year.
Experts also have seen a sharp increase in recent years in the number of female veterans in that group, making up about 2 percent of the homeless veteran population in 1996 but 7 percent of that group in 2005, according to the NCHV. The overall number of homeless veterans has decreased slightly over that time period.
Denise Randolph, who served in the Army for 12 years, said her time in the military actually contributed to her ending up destitute and without a place to live.
Several sexual assaults by male soldiers — coupled with a fear of reporting the crimes to unsympathetic superiors — led her to alcohol and drug abuse, which in turn led to a discharge from the service and, eventually, several years living on the street.
“When I went to seek help … the programs available were for men and run by men,” she said at the forum. “I had overwhelming trust issues at that time. So, a few years later I was back to drinking and back on the streets.”
Randolph, who lives in Philadelphia, has a steady job and a place to live now, thanks in large part to a women-specific assistance program she enrolled in two years ago. Beversdorf said those programs are becoming more common but are still too sparse to meet the needs of homeless veterans.
Veterans organizations — and representatives from the VA — at the event also lobbied for more money for assisted-living facilities and for individuals with serious health issues, as well as for affordable housing construction and job training efforts.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., called the numbers of veterans without jobs and shelter “a moral failure of this nation.” He said he believes many of the issues could be solved with better funding of existing veterans outreach programs.