According to data released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday, officials saw an increase of more than 2,400 veterans without stable housing during their annual point-in-time count conducted last January.
That put the total number of veterans experiencing homelessness that night in cities across America at 35,574. Advocates for homeless veterans have noted that the actual number of veterans dealing with housing issues is likely even higher, given the limitations of the single-night survey.
The increase in homeless veterans, meanwhile, was less severe than the rise in homelessness in the general population (12%) and is still 4.5% below veteran levels reported in 2020. The 35,574 estimate is also less than half the 74,000 estimate in 2010, when the White House and Department of Veterans Affairs launched a series of high-profile initiatives targeting the problem.
But the point-in-time count took place several months before the expiration of pandemic programs offering extra assistance to veterans facing financial hardships, a move that advocates have warned may have driven up homelessness totals even further in the last half-year.
In a statement, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the White House plans to increase a pair of grant programs designed to prevent housing issues among veterans.
“One veteran experiencing homelessness will always be one too many, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that veterans get the safe, stable housing that they deserve,” he said. “These new grants are a critical part of that effort, empowering VA and our partners to provide more housing and wraparound services to more homeless and at-risk veterans than ever before.”
Last month, VA leaders announced that for the second year in a row they had met their goal of permanently housing 38,000 veterans facing financial problems and uncertain shelter options. However, those efforts in 2022 were not enough to help reduce the national numbers.
VA and HUD officials said they are still researching the reasons for the increase, including the rising cost of housing in communities across the country and the end of COVID-related support programs.
Earlier this week, HUD leaders announced the number of grants to homeless service organizations rose 15% from the end of 2022 to the end 2023. That translates into more than 330,000 individuals who sought assistance.
In a statement, officials from the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans called the new homelessness report disappointing but not surprising.
“These numbers reflect what many have long known, we are facing a crisis of housing affordability,” they said. “NCHV, our members across the country, and our national partners have long sounded the alarm regarding the seriousness of this crisis and the need for further and deeper federal investment in solutions.
“The administration and Congress should heed continued warnings that a lack of investment and programmatic change will continue to be disastrous for veterans facing housing instability. Congress must restore expired pandemic-era legislative provisions to improve veteran access to both transitional housing and supportive services.”
Veterans seeking help with homelessness or related financial problems can call 877-424-3838 for help or visit the department’s web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.