While the Numbers of Homeless Veterans Continue to Decrease, their Needs Remain Unchanged
In general, US Veterans have been over-represented in the country's homeless adult population; in 2016, it was estimated that Veterans constituted 9% of homeless adults, while only constituting 7% of all adults. In 2009, VA embarked on a federal initiative to end Veteran homelessness. As a result, the most recent 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report reported that homelessness among Veterans has declined by 45% since 2009. However, while considerable progress has been made, many Veterans continue to struggle with homelessness. For more than two decades, VA's Project Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) has conducted an annual national survey to assess the needs of homeless Veterans. This study compiled five years of CHALENG survey data (available since the 2011 report) and examined changes in the characteristics of geographically diverse homeless Veteran respondents and their ratings on unmet needs. Specifically, investigators examined survey data from 2012 (n=6,859), 2013 (n=7,741), 2014 (n=7,216), 2015 (n=3,765), and 2016 (n=3,191). These surveys asked questions on sociodemographics, housing, income/benefits, legal assistance, education/job services, and community partnership. Across the five-year survey period, more than 10% of respondents had a history of chronic homelessness, and the majority was currently residing in transitional housing, Section 8 housing, or were homeless.
- While the sociodemographic characteristics of homeless Veterans have changed over time (i.e., increasing number of aging, female, and white Veterans), their needs have largely remained unchanged. In addition to general needs, there also were several specialized unmet needs.
- Across years 2012-2016, there were slight increases in unmet needs related to case management, food, emergency shelter, and medical services, but the highest-rated unmet needs that affected the most homeless Veterans were related to credit, utilities, furniture, dental care, and disability income.
- The need for legal assistance regarding evictions and foreclosures also was reported as one of the top unmet needs for all five years. Over four of the five years, legal assistance for child support – and in three of the five years, child care also were reported as common unmet needs.
- Homeless Veterans have begun to identify other needs beyond obtaining housing that pertain to sustaining housing and improving social functioning. Findings highlight numerous areas that may need further attention and intervention as VA continues to prioritize ending homelessness among Veterans.
- The CHALENG survey used convenience samples, and the sample sizes declined over time.
- Survey items were based on self-report.
Dr. Tsai is part of HSR&D's Pain Research, Informatics, Multi-Morbidities, and Education Center (PRIME), and the VA Connecticut Health Care System. Drs. Blue-Howells and Nakashima are part of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
Tsai J, Blue-Howells J, and Nakashima J. Needs of Homeless Veterans: 5 Years of the CHALENG Survey 2012-16. Journal of Public Health. May 3, 2018; Epub ahead of print.