Report: California leads nation in number of homeless veterans
By JULIANA BARBASSA, The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO -
California leads the nation in the number of homeless veterans, with 49,724 former members of the Armed Forces living on the streets, according to a national report to be released Thursday.
Veterans represent 11 percent of the adult civilian population nationally. As a group, they're likely to be better educated and employed than the general population, and yet they make up one-fourth of the homeless in the United States, according to the report by the Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit. The report relied on data from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau.
In California, 2.26 percent of veterans were found to be homeless in 2006. Service providers in the state attributed the high numbers to the large number of military bases here, good weather that makes it possible to live on the streets year-round and the Golden State's reputation for providing more public services than others.
Men and women who've served in the Armed Forces here are faced with the state's skyrocketing cost of housing and competition for what help is available, service providers said.
"A number of our guys have moved from place to place, trying to run away from old demons, and they end up going to our large metropolitan areas where jobs are available," Stephen Peck, community development director with the Los Angeles-based United States Veterans Initiative, a national nonprofit that provides housing and support. "But in places like Los Angeles, if things don't end up working out they like thought, they end up homeless in a very high-cost area."
US Vet's programs indicate the scope of the issue: Of the 1,100 veterans that Peck's organization helps find a job each year, about 400 are in Los Angeles. And of the 2,200 they house each night, more than 1,000 are in Los Angeles, Peck said.
In San Francisco, which has some of the nation's highest rents, the consequences are visible: men holding up cardboard signs reading "Homeless veteran, please help," are often seen on highway onramps, at street lights, on sidewalks.
The cost of housing is a burden many who might be struggling with other issues can't bear, said Sierra Ross, general manager of the Raman Hotel, one of 16 single-room occupancy buildings run by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco.
"We've just taken in seven new people, and three of them had been evicted because their rent has been going up and they couldn't afford it," said Ross. "It's just outrageous."
While it's difficult to point to the causes of homelessness among veterans, they're likely to include factors that affect the general population - health problems, lack of support networks, economic pitfalls - as well as the hardships facing members of the Armed Forces in particular - stressful work condition, long separations from family and friends, physical or mental disabilities stemming from exposure to wars, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, the report said.