Veterans Experiencing Homelessness: Streets or Shelter?


Sarah Hunter, Senior Behavioral/Social Scientist

In 2019, we set out to enroll veterans who were street homeless in West L.A. in a year-long study. Our study was unique in that we conducted in-depth interviews each month to ask the veterans about their experiences, including whether they obtained housing or not, and about their health and well-being and use of services.

Most of the veterans in our study wanted housing. It's a big myth that veterans living on the streets don't want housing. The issue is that most of the options available to them don't provide autonomy, safety, security, or privacy, and therefore many veterans choose to live on the street than accept the shelter that is offered to them. Many of the veterans that were stably housed left the L.A. area. This suggests that providing more support to leave Los Angeles may improve the likelihood of veterans becoming housed.

We found that about two-thirds of the veterans in our study obtained housing, but mostly it was in transitional or temporary housing settings. The problem with that is veterans are still at a great risk of becoming homeless again. Only three out of the twenty-six veterans we enrolled in our study found a permanent housing solution by the time our study ended. Once veterans were housed, we observed that their health and well-being improved. Veterans reported that they were better able to manage their medications, had more social support, and their quality of life improved. We also saw fewer reports of emergency room visits and inpatient stays once veterans were housed, suggesting a tradeoff that is often reported — housing can reduce the use of costly health care.