A man knocks on the door of a makeshift shelter covered in blue tarps.

Booted From the Army, He Spiraled. Now He Works to Solve the Veteran Homelessness Crisis.

Homeless veterans make up only a small fraction of America’s homeless population, and they have been a priority in efforts to house the homeless. Since 2019, Congress has committed billions of dollars in resources to end veteran homelessness, and the number of unhoused veterans, who make up 8% of the homeless nationwide, has been cut almost in half since then, though last year saw a 7.4% uptick in numbers.

But the proportion of homeless veterans living outdoors has increased. California, in particular, has more homeless veterans lingering on the street than any other state. More than 7,400 veterans live outside. Add in another 3,100 other veterans who live in shelters or temporary housing, and that’s 10,500, or almost one-third of all homeless veterans in the country.

A severe shortage of affordable housing and the tremendous cost of living in California are partly to blame. But it’s estimated that more than half of homeless veterans suffer from a mental illness, and 70% are affected by substance use disorder; often the two groups overlap. For those veterans, if outreach, supportive housing, and a veteran’s readiness for change don’t align, homelessness often remains the default.