A welcome decrease in veteran and family homelessness

Military veterans, at higher risk of mental illness and substance abuse issues, make up a disproportionate share of the country’s homeless population. Roughly 11,000 veterans experience homelessness in California on any given night, about 8% of the state’s total homeless population. Most vets experiencing homelessness are over age 50, and often have significant disabilities and medical conditions that are exacerbated by precarious housing situations. Military members who experienced an episode of sexual trauma during their service are at especially high risk.

The good news is that the number of vets living on the streets has declined significantly over the past decade, both nationally and in California. Experts credit initiatives from the Obama administration incentivizing a “housing-first” approach — where permanent housing is provided without preconditions for addiction or mental health treatment — to help homeless vets. The city of Riverside succeeded in housing all 89 of its homeless veterans after adopting that approach.

While homelessness among families is also down over the last decade, that was the fastest growing group in 2020’s point in time count. About 8,000 families and 12,000 children were homeless in California last year. In Los Angeles, their number spiked by 45.7%. As a result, family homelessness was the main focus of the 2021-22 state budget; Newsom announced a goal of zero family homelessness in the next five years.

Unlike households without children, those with at least one child are far more likely to utilize emergency shelter or transitional housing. One striking statistic: Infancy is the age at which a person in the United States is most likely to be found in a homeless shelter. Several studies have found strong correlations between early childhood housing instability and behavioral and learning difficulties later in school.