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ScoutInsight Spotlight: Exploring Veteran Homelessness

ScoutInsight, the market research division of ScoutComms, is excited to launch our new monthly spotlight report. Each month, we’ll shine a spotlight on an issue that is important to the veteran and military family communities. Anyone who is a subscriber to the ScoutComms ScoutReport will automatically receive this report, so make sure you sign up here!

Given that the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) Annual Conference wrapped up recently, we felt it befitting to focus on veteran homelessness for June. The following report provides takeaways from the NCHV conference and analysis written by Research Director Dr. Kiersten Downs.

Takeaways from NCHV Annual Conference
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans held its annual conference May 29-31 in Washington, D.C. Over 700 attendees interacted with a national coalition of organizations, partners and government leaders serving the nation’s homeless veteran population. This is ScoutComms’ seventh year as the public relations partner supporting the conference. ScoutComms provided media and social media support for the conference, which featured a host of breakout sessions on key aspects of the homelessness fight and speeches from Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Overall the news is relatively good for the homeless veteran population but could be better. While inroads continue to be made on reducing the number of veterans on the streets, clouds on the horizon remain despite progress that has resulted in a 50% drop in the population since 2010. However, more women veterans are struggling, and the population is aging substantially as the Vietnam cohort enters their 70s and face financial and life challenges in a system not designed for elderly needs.

We cannot take our eye off the ball and assume continued success in reducing veteran homelessness without careful management of the issue.

Analysis and remarks on veteran homelessness – Dr. Downs, Research Director, ScoutInsight
Even though numbers in veteran homelessness nationally appear to be decreasing, it is important to remain cautious about any statements claiming statewide eradication. As suggested by experts at NCHV, the transient nature of the population makes it nearly impossible to accurately count the number of homeless veterans. My concerns about absolute claims regarding a complex social problem is that it can lead to the tightening of purse strings too quickly. Progress certainly has been made in measures of assistance, but progress can just as easily be undone when the rug is pulled out from already stressed organizations that largely rely on government funding. A recent LA Times article suggests that as fast as people are being bailed out of homelessness, more are falling in. The foundation being laid to eradicate homelessness is informed by the idealized expectation that there will only be temporary cases of homelessness now that systems are in place in a growing number of cities and states to provide successful intervention.

The issue area of veteran homelessness is wildly complex, and we need to continue to remind ourselves of this. Most importantly, researchers emphasize that it is vitally important to view factors impacting homelessness as complex, dynamic, and overlapping, and that factors of homelessness are neither static nor discrete; rather, they change over time and interact within and across levels. The fluid nature of homelessness needs to be kept at the center when discussing policy and developing awareness and prevention programs meant to help at risk populations.

A continued collective effort to strengthen Department of Veterans Affairs and HUD collaboration with organizations at the local community and nonprofit levels is necessary as this is where the most successful models and initiatives are housed that provide community support services for homeless veterans and their families. Swords to Plowshares and Veterans Resource Centers of America are two reputable Veterans Service Organizations on the West Coast emphasizing comprehensive models of care to address veteran homelessness. Approaches may start with housing, but also need to holistically address underlying causes of homelessness that can be mediated with ongoing access to quality healthcare including behavioral healthcare and gender specific healthcare, vocational rehabilitation, rehabilitation programs for incarcerated veterans, legal aid and educational support services.

There is a need to hone in on inclusive programming tailored specifically for minority veterans. Veterans of color, women, transgender veterans, and more broadly LGBTQ veterans are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. Also, according to HUD data, nearly 60% of homeless veterans are living with a disability. There is a real possibility that implementation of discriminatory policies such as the recent military transgender ban could ultimately lead to an increase in the homeless veteran population. Additionally, the increased severity of natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes can impact homeless numbers. The face of homelessness has changed greatly as the price of housing becomes more unaffordable to masses of people. Given these factors, more people are living in vans, cars, and RV’s across the country.

Veterans are a microcosm of the larger population and problems that impact veterans also impact our society writ large, as our President Brian Wagner wrote in the Washington Post in 2016. I certainly want us to “solve” veteran homelessness. But we can’t solve anything for veterans if we aren’t addressing the root causes that got us here in the first place. Until we end the “forever war” mentality and ritual glorification of the military, and seriously address access to mental health care, climate change and the affordable housing crisis with haste, we won’t see an end to veteran homelessness. Likewise, the numbers with regards to homelessness nationally will continue to climb.

Kiersten Downs, PhDResearch Director and Program Lead for ScoutInsight, the market research division of ScoutComms.
Dr. Downs is an Air Force Veteran and Applied Anthropologist with over a decade of experience in research and managing projects that focus on Veteran policy, transition and reintegration, suicide prevention, military sexual trauma, and employment needs.

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