What should I know about homelessness?
Being homeless, or at risk for homelessness, is one of the most difficult things anyone can face. Lacking the security of knowing where you’ll sleep at night, having no place to keep your belongings, and not being able to care for yourself and possibly your family can lead to stress, anger, a sense of shame, depression, and physical discomfort. It can be hard to find employment, live a satisfying life, or do the things you want to do when you are homeless.
Many circumstances can lead to homelessness. Some Veterans become homeless due to a combination of housing shortages and high unemployment. Other Veterans may be dealing with painful memories from the military or health issues and have little access to health care or support from family and friends. This may lead them to feel as though they have nowhere to go but the streets. In some cases, what seems like a temporary lack of a place to stay becomes permanent. In other cases, Veterans who are homeless move from shelter to shelter because they don’t know where else to go.
What should I know about being homeless?
Like many others, you or a Veteran you know may have difficulty coming to terms with the thought “I am homeless.” You may become angry or hopeless and simply give up trying to find a home or stop taking care of yourself. Such despair can also lead to harmful behavior — such as alcohol or drug problems — as a means of coping with your feelings.
“I had been successful, and then it felt like I lost all my energy. I just couldn’t keep my job anymore. The bills mounted up, I couldn’t keep up with the rent, and I got kicked out of my apartment.”
Some Veterans who are homeless may face additional difficulties, such as:
- Feeling down on themselves and hopeless
- Being hungry, or not eating healthy foods
- Getting sick more often
- Having physical ailments
- Being out in extreme heat and cold
- Drinking alcohol or taking drugs to temporarily feel better
Some homeless Veterans may be dealing with health conditions that need attention, such as physical injury, problems with alcohol and drugs, depression, and posttraumatic stress. No matter what you or a Veteran you know may be going through while homeless, you may want to reach out for help right away.
What help is available for homeless Veterans?
All Veterans at risk for homelessness or attempting to exit homelessness, and their families and friends, can access a variety of resources and benefits, such as prevention services, housing support, job training, and health care. The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans provides a hotline and online chat for free, confidential assistance. Trained VA staff are on call and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist homeless Veterans and their families at 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838).
“I went to a Stand Down thinking I would just get some clothes and new glasses. I ended up talking to someone who helped me work out my legal problems.”
Veterans and their family or friends can also contact the VA Homeless Coordinator at their nearest VA Medical Center for information or assistance.
Homelessness is complicated and difficult to overcome, but there are things you can do right now:
- Make a list of your most immediate needs.
- Contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans for support and resources.
- Find a place where you can receive mail, like a shelter, place of worship, or VA regional office or clinic.
- Make sure you have copies of personal records, such as your birth certificate, your Social Security card, a photo ID, and your DD214; the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has information on replacing personal records.
- Eat healthy foods when possible.
- Avoid “easy outs” like alcohol and drugs.
Take the next step: Make the connection.
Every day Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard and their families and friends connect with resources, services, and support to address the issues affecting their lives. Homelessness interferes with health, relationships, and daily activities. There could also be underlying issues that are contributing to homelessness. Reach out for support and consider connecting with:
- The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans and has specific resources for homeless Veterans.
- Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does.
- A mental health professional, such as a counselor or therapist
- A spiritual or religious adviser
Explore these resources for helping homeless Veterans.
Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to homelessness, such as alcohol or drug problems, stress and anxiety, relationship problems, posttraumatic stress, and depression.