BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Joining Forces for Women Veterans: Homelessness

Posted by sherrysaunders on October 28, 2010

Issue Brief

The military expends great resources training its soldiers to be the most skilled, efficient, disciplined and adaptable employees possible. Yet when soldiers return home, they have no guarantee of a place to live. It is a travesty that there are more than 100,000 homeless veterans on our streets and 13,000 of them are women, many with children. Homelessness encompasses a variety of situations including the woman veteran on the park bench, or in and out of temporary shelters, or who holds a steady job and lives out of her car. Access to affordable, permanent housing remains veterans’ number one unmet need according to the 2008 report from the Department of Veteran Affairs Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups.

In the past decade, 100,000 mothers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. As these women return home, they too will be confronted with the very real challenge of identifying and maintaining suitable housing situations for their families. The numbers are not on their side. While the overall number of homeless veterans is declining, the number of homeless women veterans is increasing.

Women veterans are four times more likely than non-veteran women to experience homelessness.

The underlying causes and circumstances for women veterans’ disproportionate levels of homelessness are not well understood. A recent study identified the following risk factors associated with homelessness among women veterans: being unmarried, unemployed, disabled and having a history of sexual trauma. Homeless women veterans often have more severe mental health issues than veteran men, in part because they are more likely to experience military sexual assault (MST) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are also less likely to seek medical assistance as they try to work through or deny their needs for help, wanting to show their resiliency as they did in the service.

As of June 2008, over 19,000 women veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with mental disorders by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). That’s 19,000 women at risk of becoming homeless. In 2009, there were more than 200,000 women on active duty in military. Approximately 40% of women in the military experience MST, that’s another 80,000 at risk of becoming homeless. Addressing housing challenges for women veterans is not just about supporting the 13,000 that are currently homeless but also preventing women veterans from becoming homeless.

Access to VA benefits is associated with better housing outcomes for women veterans. However, women veterans often do not access the benefits and services they have earned for a variety of reasons detailed below. Addressing the rising rates of homeless women veterans requires a more in-depth understanding of individual issues and circumstances leading to more specialized programs. The discussion below outlines common contributing factors to women veteran’s barriers to services and support.

To better prevent homelessness and support homeless women veterans, additional research, programs and partnerships are needed.

Ensuring that women veterans have access to housing demonstrates a national commitment to our service members. When skilled women veterans lack access to basic housing, opportunities are missed at every level—fulfilling personal and career goals, family and community participation, and societal commitments.

Women veterans have a right to expect assistance in securing appropriate housing for themselves and their families as they reintegrate to civilian life; and business and government leaders must understand the political and economic value of this assistance. When human resources are misallocated, companies forfeit talented workers and productivity outcomes and our nation’s overall competitive potential is compromised. 

Promising Practices and Lessons Learned

>>>Transitional Housing
Operation Home Front, funded jointly by the VA and Florida’s Department of Children and Families in Cocoa, Florida will provide integrated services to help residents address warfare trauma and substance abuse, gain employment, and transition to permanent housing. The facility will foster a safe, supportive community by housing 28 homeless women veterans and their children together. Residents will receive individualized treatment in an environment where bonding and attachment with their children is nurtured. 
Created in 1987, under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) is the only federal program dedicated to providing employment assistance to homeless veterans. HVRP provides employment focused services such as job placement, training, job development, career counseling, and resume preparation. HVRP also partners with organizations to provide supportive services such as access to shelter, food, clothing and transportation. After more than 20 years of implementation, HVRP captured in the following lessons learned related to best practices  for addressing the complex needs of this target population.

  • Community Collaboration. No single governmental agency can effectively provide the array of services required to meet homeless veterans’ needs. HVRP programs rely on partnerships with local government agencies and community and faith-based organizations. Strong network collaboration is identified as the single most important strategy for enhancing the quality of services provided through HVRP programs.
  • Comprehensive Assessments and Reports. Client assessment and progress reports are used to identify individual needs and to identify individual performance plans. These reports are important planning, monitoring and evaluation tools at the individual and organizational level. 
  • Developing Employment Opportunities.  HVRP programs have learned the importance of not only preparing homeless veterans for the workforce but also developing employment opportunities for their clients.  To ensure gainful employment for clients, HVRP programs establish cooperative agreements with local businesses, job-specific training through HVRP grantee facilities, and on-the-job training facilitated by employer support services.  

The webcast of the Joining Forces for Women Veterans Inaugural Summit can be viewed online at your convenience.


4 Responses to “Joining Forces for Women Veterans: Homelessness”

  1. Jocelyn said

    A friend sent me an email about North Carolina building a new shelter for homeless women Vets which would house 40 women. I started checking into it because I worked for the US Army at the time and am Co-
    Chair of the National Organization Combating Racism Committee. Needless to say I hit brick walls ever where I checked to locate the numbers of homeless vets., cities they were concentrated in and the numbers of children they had out there with them. I even contacted the Veterans Affairs office here in MO. and no one had an answer. If anyone wants to share my email is above.

  2. Jocelyn,

    Several of the links in this issue brief have numbers for certain locals that were surved by the VA program. Look at this as well as the VIN links at the bottom of the document. http://www1.va.gov/homeless/chaleng.asp. Were you looking for something specific?

  3. […] of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, their return home is riddled with homelessness, mental illness and isolation. For more information, watch Joining Forces for Women Veterans, an […]

  4. Compare Resume Services…

    […]Joining Forces for Women Veterans: Homelessness « Young Women Misbehavin'[…]…

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