The number of homeless veterans in northeast Indiana has tripled from a year ago, according to recent data from the United Way of Allen County and the Fort Wayne Area Planning Council on Homelessness.
Others who increasingly find themselves without a home include children, those with chronic substance abuse issues and victims of domestic violence. But the overall number of chronically homeless – those without a home a year or more – and homeless individuals was down.
The survey released Thursday is based on a point-in-time count conducted in January, and covers nine counties: Allen, Adams, DeKalb, LaGrange, Huntington, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley.
The numbers of homeless veterans increased from 32 last year to 96 this year, said Molly Link, spokeswoman for the United Way of Allen County.
We are not sure if there are more homeless veterans or if they are just more willing to ask for assistance since we now have shelters specifically for veterans like, Liberty Landing, Link said.
The numbers do not surprise Timothy Campbell, president and CEO of Volunteers of America in Indianapolis, an organization that serves more than 7,700 homeless veterans in 15 states every year.
Latest statistics put the number of homeless veterans across the state at about 800 on any given night, but Campbell thinks the numbers are much higher.
The numbers do not include the veterans who are couch-surfing, or staying at a friends or family members home because they have no home, Campbell said.
Indiana has a disproportionate amount of homeless veterans because it has a high incidence of those who volunteer to serve in the military, he said.
We are fourth in the nation with the highest percentage of population that serves in the military, Campbell said. Its a tradition that is strong in Indiana.
Other factors include a sluggish economy and more veterans returning home with stress-related mental and physical issues, he said.
It can be hard for them to find a job, and add to that the stress of coming home with more challenges, Campbell said.
Those challenges come from serving in a climate different from the wars of generations ago, he said.
They are at constant risk. In todays military conflicts, there are no safe places, he said.
Not just soldiers, but also children are increasingly finding themselves homeless in northeast Indiana. There were 258 homeless people with children last year, and that grew to 330 this year.
While the count helps identify the struggles of the homeless in the area, it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons for increases, Link said.
Other affected groups included homeless individuals with chronic substance abuse and those with issues related to domestic violence.
According to the study, those with substance abuse problems increased from 38 to 73 people, and those who became homeless because of domestic violence issues grew from 48 to 87 people.
There was some good news – the study marked a 38 percent decrease among those considered chronically homeless.
Those are the people who have been homeless a year or more or have been homeless four or more times within a three-year span, Link said.
Another decrease was noted among homeless individuals, where the numbers dropped from 99 to 60 people.
But officials are wary.
More likely, the homeless may be staying with relatives or friends, and cannot be counted as homeless, said Tiffany Bailey, director of 2-1-1, income and basic needs at United Way and chairwoman of the Fort Wayne Area Planning Council on Homelessness.
We know there are a huge number of people staying in hotels due to a lack of income or credit to rent or buy a home, Link said.
And all of the agencies that help the homeless are always full. There are always waiting lists.