Homeless Female Veterans: A Hidden Epidemic

By: Jennefer Witter

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The numbers are appalling. On any given day, an estimated 55,000 U.S. female veterans find themselves homeless. In fact, they make up the fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population.

According to Jas Boothe, founder/president of Final Salute– an organization whose mission is to provide homeless female veterans with safe and suitable housing — many homeless female vets are invisible because they stay with friends or family, rather than on the streets or in shelters. They may be wary of losing their children, because many housing options aren’t family-friendly; they may also have security concerns.

Boothe, a cancer survivor and disabled army veteran who founded Final Salute after experiencing post-deployment homelessness, explains that female veterans become homeless for a host of reasons, including service-related injuries and illness; domestic violence; military sexual trauma; PTSD; disabilities; divorce/separation; lack of a family or social support network; and substance abuse. But the overarching cause is the lack of affordable services designed to meet the needs of female veterans — for example, 70 percent of the women who approach Final Salute have children, and most government- funded veteran homeless shelters are not geared for women with children.

Boothe points out that ending homelessness goes way beyond building homes for veterans. She identifies three solutions that can ease and potentially eliminate female vet homelessness.

  • Prevention: Put money into treating the root causes of homelessness. While some programs exist, there’s a great need for many more. For example, it can sometimes take as long as nine months to get a medical appointment. And suicidal veterans need immediate help — but often can’t get it.
  • Gender-sensitive Programs: It’s important for programs to take the uniqueness of gender into account. For example, some women aren’t comfortable being treated in the presence of men. They certainly shouldn’t have to go through a gauntlet of catcalling to get to their appointment, as is sometimes the case. Something as simple as a private entrance can prevent re-triggering women who’ve suffered sexual abuse.
  • Family-friendly Programs: Since many homeless female vets have children, it’s critical to ensure that program design includes families. Programs shouldn’t stipulate that children can’t come accompany their mothers. Sixty percent of government-funded programs won’t accept women with children. This lack of availability can lead to women staying in unacceptable situations — such as domestic abuse or overcrowded with relatives — to avoid separation.

Final Salute fights the homeless female vet problem with three programs. H.O.M.E. (Housing Outreach Mentorship Encouragement) provides transitional housing, on-site case management, food, clothing, transportation, child care subsidy/assistance, employment support and other essential supportive services to homeless female veterans and their children. S.A.F.E. (Savings Assessment and Financial Education) offers valuable financial education resources on saving, budgeting and living on a fixed income, as well as emergency financial support. And Next Uniform helps female veterans make a successful transition into the civilian workforce, providing free business attire, accessories, make-overs, image consulting and professional head shots.

Female veteran homelessness demands attention from every American. “We must deal with the underlying issues that affect our retired female service personnel who have sacrificed so much for their country,” says Boothe. “The overarching problem is the lack of affordable services designed with the female veteran in mind. Increased awareness, proactive programming and funding can go a long way toward solving a crisis that shouldn’t exist.”

Previously published at www.ellevatnetwork.com.

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