Veterans have twice the risk of becoming chronically homeless as other Americans. For most, this statistic does not square up with the image we have of soldiers returning home to a hero’s welcome. Alumna Rachel Waltz (MSW’08) and Columbia faculty Lt. Col. Franklin Swayne discuss why veterans become homeless, and how non-veterans can provide more effective care to veterans.
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Homelessness among United States veterans is a widespread concern, cutting across demographics:
- Veterans have twice the risk of becoming chronically homeless as other Americans.
- According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are about 50,000 homeless veterans on any given night, with about 1.4 million others at risk of becoming homeless. The plight affects both male and female veterans, and all age groups, though more than 40 percent are between the ages of 31 and 50.
- Many veterans fall into homelessness or poverty because the skills they learned in the military aren’t transferable for the civilian workforce.
- They may also be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or substance use disorder—and face difficulty in obtaining health care due to limited government services.
- Many also lack a family or social support network.
Following her graduation from CSSW in 2008, Rachel Waltz, LCSW, worked with the homeless in Brooklyn as part of the Empowerment Program run by Neighbors Together. She was awarded a Brooklyn Woman of Distinction in 2011. She then moved to Durham, NC, where she uncovered an opportunity to use her skills helping out the homeless to help a new population: veterans. She took a job with HUD-VASH, a collaborative program between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Administration (VA). It combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help veterans who are homeless and their families find and sustain permanent housing. Still working for HUD-VASH, Rachel is now based in the the Bronx, where she also works to increase continuing educational opportunities for VA Social Workers and to ensure that LGBT Veterans have access to culturally competent care.
- how veterans who are homeless differ from the rest of the homeless population;
- the social work skills that are most useful for working with veterans, particularly if you’re a non-veteran; and
- the characteristics of a successful program for veterans who are homeless.