Reducing Homelessness in Veterans With Mental Illness
From: Social Work Today
By: Kate Jackson
This article in Social Work Today is from a few years ago, but still viable in our society today.
Homelessness affects approximately 140,000 veterans annually, according to Dennis P. Culhane, PhD, director of research at the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans for the VA and the Dana and Andrew Stone Professor of Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. On any given night, he adds, roughly 60,000 veterans are without a home.
But these numbers are on track for a positive downward slide after having already fallen dramatically in the past six years. While not all agree it’s attainable, experts concede significant progress has been made toward a goal set by Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the VA, to eradicate veteran homelessness by 2015. An array of housing programs, dedicated outreach, a housing-first approach, and homeless-specific services provided by the VA are hammering away at the statistics, Culhane says.
But for many veterans, mental health issues, including those related to PTSD, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and other disorders are the obstacles to finding and keeping secure housing—in addition to a lack of affordable options and social and economic disadvantage.
Mental health issues complicate and contribute to the problem of homelessness in multiple ways. “They often result in the inability to acquire the skills, supports, and opportunities for economic advancement, for housing, or good family and social relationships,” says Gary Shaheen, MPA, director of employment policy at the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families. All of this, he says, “can shut down a person’s ability to cope and hope.”
Culhane says people with severe mental illness who do not have disabilities related to military service typically live on a fixed income of roughly $640 per month and can’t afford housing in the private market. Added to that, he says, a mental health crisis also may cause people to lose housing, perhaps by creating problems with landlords or family members, or as a result of extended hospitalizations that prevent them from making the rent.