The issue of veterans who are homeless first emerged in the United States. A series of studies conducted in the mid-80s and early '90s showed that veterans comprised 11 percent of the adult male population in the U.S., but up to 26 percent of the male homeless population. Studies conducted in Australia and the United Kingdom in the mid-2000s, however, estimated that veterans made up only 3 percent of the male homeless population.
In Canada, awareness of the issue came later. As of the mid-2000s, it is suggested that veterans might make up a significant percentage of Canada’s homeless population. The total number of veterans who are homeless in Canada can be estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals.
The issue in Canada was first examined from a national perspective in 2011. The purpose of the study was not to estimate the scope of the problem, but to gain an understanding of the factors underlying homelessness based on the individual experiences of veterans who are homeless.
From the study, three main themes emerged:
alcoholism triggering a downward spiral;
a disparity in the quality of services available from shelters and public institutions; and
difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life.
The problems experienced by veterans
who are homeless often find their source
in a difficult transition from military to civilian life.
The 2011 study reported, “Most veterans who are homeless are adult males, and overall they tend to be older than homeless non-Veterans”.
Of the 700,000 veterans living in Canada in 2014, approximately 2,250 used homeless shelters during that year. While shelter use numbers alone are not sufficient to estimate the total number of veterans who are homeless in Canada, they help to establish an objective baseline for measuring future changes and comparing the extent of the problem.
Of all shelter users registered with the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System, about 2.7% were veterans. This rate is far below that of the United States for the same year. According to the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR), 11.3% of homeless adults in the U.S. in 2014 were veterans. However, a comparison between the United States and Canada can be misleading, as it does not account for the much higher percentage of veterans in the U.S. population.
In 2014, there were about 21 million veterans in the United States, 30 times more than in Canada, for a population approximately nine times larger than ours. If the number of veterans who used shelters in 2014 is compared with the number of veterans in the country, Canada’s ratio is more than double that of the United States: 2,250 out of 700,000 veterans in Canada, versus 32,119 out of 21 million in the United States.
Moving Towards Ending Homelessness Among Veterans
Report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, Neil R. Ellis, Chair