Lately, we’ve heard a lot about the plight of homeless veterans. It’s about time! However, how often do you hear about homeless women vets? Sure, a vet is a vet…and in the interest of true equality, we shouldn’t have to use the word “women” in that phrase any more than we should have to use the word “black” or “disabled” or any other. But we do. And this is the reason: housing homeless women vets brings with it a whole new set of issues. “Can they be housed with male vets?” “What about shower/bathroom facilities?” “What if they have children?” “How do we keep them safe?” I know a woman veteran who, in 2010, packed up her 2 little kids and left her alcoholic, abusive husband of 5 years. She had a steady job, and her father lived nearby and offered to take care of the kids while she worked, because she couldn’t afford daycare. Six months later, her father had a heart attack while watching the kids. She couldn’t afford to pay the sitter and her rent so she lost her job, and soon after, her house. She and the kids spent the next year shuffling from place to place, mostly living out of her minivan. It’s very difficult to find a job when you have no permanent address and no way to pay for daycare. In 2012, she went to the VA to try to find help.
According to the Disabled Veterans Homeless Foundation, there were 1,700 homeless veteran women in Iraq/Afghanistan in 2011. That same year, 18% of homeless veterans assisted by the VA were women. Comparison studies conducted by HUD show that female veterans are two to three times more likely to be homeless than any other group in the US adult population. And these are just the ones we know about.
Below I’ve listed all the programs for homeless veterans that I was able to find:
- The VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans. This is a free hotline and you don’t have to be registered with the VA to use it. When my friend called them in 2012, they said they didn’t have anything for women vets with children in her very large metropolitan city. ·
- Transitional Housing facilities. Most large VA hospitals will dedicate one wing (or a ward) on one floor of the hospital to house homeless vets. Unfortunately, these berths are generally for men only. There are very few, if any, VA facilities that provide spaces for women, and I know of exactly none that provide space for women with children.
- HUD/VASH vouchers. This is a great program! However, long waiting lists require the vet to find some sort of transitional housing while waiting for approval for these vouchers. There’s also a good chance the application will be denied. ·
- The Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program. Though not a program for the veteran, per se, it provides funds to community-based agencies providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless veterans. The vet may be directed to one of these facilities, when s/he calls the hotline. One place I know that received this funding in 2012 and could, therefore, house women vets, also provided transitional housing for criminals in a halfway house type situation, as well as housing for women with children through the DCFS. The only way a woman vet with children could be housed there was through DCFS, not the VA, since the VA doesn’t pay for or help with children at all.
So, how does my friend’s story turn out? The VA had no immediate assistance for her because she was a woman with 2 kids. The kids had to stay with her father for 2 weeks so the VA could get her into that GPD facility I mentioned. Then the facility helped her switch from the GPD program to the DCFS program so her kids could join her. She later received a HUD/VASH voucher, then a good job, and she and her kids are now doing just fine.
Women, like men, can become homeless for many reasons: escaping the sexual/physical abuse of a spouse or partner, becoming jobless, or due to mental health issues, among many others. Is there help available? Yes, if they can find it. Do they need to find a job and help themselves out of the situation? Absolutely! And most of them really want to. But they need a safe place to stay while they do so. The reason this is a dialogue we need to open is not because women should receive special treatment just because they’re women. We need to talk about this because there have been many strides taken in the way we treat, and the programs we offer to, homeless male veterans. But I think it’s high time we recognize that there are differences between the needs of homeless men and women, and there are still very few resources available specifically to address the special needs of the homeless female vet. We need to offer programs for both. After all, we all served.