The 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, prepared by HUD, estimates there were 62,619 homeless Veterans on a single night in January in the United States, a 7.2 percent decline since 2011 and a 17.2 percent decline since 2009. The AHAR reports on the extent and nature of homelessness in America.
The Huffington Post shares the percentage of women among sheltered veterans increased by 1.8 percentage points between 2010 and 2011 and by 2.3 percentage points since 2009. The higher risk of homelessness among female veterans was highlighted in past AHAR Veteran reports and appears to be confirmed by the 2011 estimates.
In addition, according to the report, while — in 2011 — 7.2 percent of veterans in the U.S. were women, 9.8 percent of the homeless veteran’s population were women.
To read that the number of homeless people in America has been decreasing is great news. The fact that the number of homeless female veterans is increasing is a cause for concern.
Male returning Veterans become homeless largely because of substance abuse and mental illness. Researchers say that female veterans face those problems and more, including the search for family housing and an even harder time finding well-paying jobs. But a common pathway to homelessness for women is military sexual trauma, or M.S.T., from assaults or harassment during their service, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
THE DANGERS OF HOMELESSNESS
Being homeless can be an extremely dangerous life environment.
Thinkprogress.org relates the reasons that homelessness is extraordinarily dangerous are as obvious as they are many. Sleeping in tucked away, outdoor areas leaves homeless people vulnerable to attackers. They generally have most, if not all, their possessions right there with them. They are on the streets late at night when few pedestrians are around. Even among those sleeping in a shelter, violence still often pervades between guests. And many in society blame homeless people for their socioeconomic status, affording them less dignity as a person than they do with those who are better off.
Earlier this year, a survey of 250 homeless people living in South Florida conducted by the Task Force For Ending Homelessness found that more than 4 in 10 women (44 percent) and 3 in 10 men (34 percent) have been victims of violent attacks since living on the streets. “I have heard more reports of assaults in the last six months than I ever have,” the group’s CEO, Lorraine Wilby, told the Orlando Sentinel, noting that most were not random acts of violence, but robberies of what small possessions people carried with them.
A recent example of the dangers of being homeless due to the elements was broadcast worldwide when a courageous filmmaker decided to live the life first hand to bring attention to the crisis.
Theguardian.com shares a story of a 26-year-old film-maker named Lee Halpin who was working on a project on homelessness and died from natural causes, a coroner said.
Mr. Halpin’s body was found by a homeless man he had befriended in a derelict house in Newcastle upon Tyne, where they had slept during a bitterly cold spell in April.
Mr. Halpin was making a film on life on the streets and planned to sleep rough for a week.
An inquest in Newcastle found he died as a result of sudden adult death syndrome after a pathologist ruled out other causes. The weather had been extremely cold.
HELP IS AVAILABLE
Today.com provides us with some hopeful news.
Allaina Guitron is the winner of the 2013 Ms. Veteran America pageant, which exists to raise awareness and money for homeless female veterans.
Ms. Guitron, who is stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland, had a personal connection to the issue. When she was young, her mother was homeless, and Guitron lived in several foster care homes.
Looking back, Ms. Guitron said growing up in that “harsh environment” taught her important lessons about perseverance. She joined the Army at 18, looking for a challenge and a way to experience the world.
“I’m a very optimistic, positive person,” Guitron told TODAY.com. “We can all look at our circumstances and we can be victims or we can be survivors. And that’s why I felt so driven to compete.”
Here are a few organizations that are making an effort to help the homeless population in general and homeless female veterans in particular.
According to their website, The Coalition for the Homeless is the nation’s oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women, and children. They are dedicated to the principle that affordable housing, sufficient food, and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society. Since their inception in 1981, the Coalition has worked through litigation, public education, and direct services to ensure that these goals are realized.
From their first legal victory in 1981, Callahan v. Carey, which guaranteed the right to decent shelter, the Coalition’s efforts have consistently resulted in compassionate, long-term solutions to the epidemic of homelessness. Since their inception, they have demonstrated that there is indeed an end in sight, and that through the proper and strategic investment of resources we can make homelessness a thing of the past.
Mary Brosnahan is the Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless, the nation’s oldest homeless advocacy and direct services organization. In addition to groundbreaking advocacy work, the Coalition assists over 3,500 homeless men, women and children each day with food, clothing, permanent housing, job training and special programs for homeless youth.
The New York Post named her one of the “Fifty Most Powerful Women in New York,” and Terry Golway of the New York Observer noted that if “compassion were an industry in New York, Ms. Brosnahan would be its chief executive officer.”
Here is a second group.
The mission of Women’s Empowerment is to educate and empower women who are homeless with the skills and confidence necessary to get a job, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and regain a home for themselves and their children. This mission was created by homeless women expressing their needs and a community coming together with the desire to end homelessness—for good.
Their website shares in 2004, Women’s Empowerment became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Since then, the team has grown to include a board and staff with deep knowledge of the homeless community’s needs, and dozens of volunteer teachers and mentors—all of whom donate countless hours of their time to ensuring that homeless women successfully rise out of poverty. Since their inception, Women’s Empowerment has served 916 women and their 1,376 children (all of whom they know by name).
Here is a third option.
Womenshealth.va.gov provides information on health care services available to women Veterans, including comprehensive primary care as well as specialty care such as reproductive services, rehabilitation, mental health, and treatment for military sexual trauma.
VA’s Women Health Services office (Women’s Health) provides programmatic and strategic support to implement positive changes in the provision of care for all women Veterans.
In 1988, the Women Veterans Health Program was created to streamline services for women Veterans in order to provide more cost-effective medical and psychosocial care. At that time 4.4 percent of Veterans were women. The current projected percentage of U.S. Veterans who are women is 8 percent.
The organization is working to ensure that the needs of all women Veterans are addressed, including those populations that require special attention. Their website includes these situations:
o Rural and homebound Veterans can benefit from emerging technology that will deliver care remotely through “e-clinics”, mobile clinics, and home-based care services.
o Women Veterans with mental illnesses can benefit through integration of mental health services within primary care, so that necessary treatment is provided in a comprehensive and coordinated way. Women Veterans Health Care is also working to enhance the availability of woman-safe inpatient psychiatric acute units.
o Aging women Veterans can benefit from the latest advances in medical science and technology to identify and address cardiovascular disease as well as advances in treatments for diabetes, osteoporosis, and menopause.
A final group of focus that can help provide a great beginning is Final Salute Inc.
It is estimated that there are currently 55,000 homeless women Veterans in the United States on any given day. For the sacrifices they and their families have made, this is an unacceptable state for any of them to be in. Final Salute Inc. believes in paying women Veterans with the proper respects due to them for the service they have provided to our country. Final Salute also works with the Veteran in establishing her plan towards independence.
On December 23, 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported “More than 60 percent of surveyed Grant Per Diem (GPD) programs that serve homeless women veterans did not house children, and most programs that did house children had restrictions on the ages or numbers of children.
In their survey, GPD providers cited lack of housing for women with children as a significant barrier to accessing veteran housing. In addition, several noted there were financial disincentives for providers, as VA does not have the statutory authority to reimburse them for costs of housing veterans’ children. Limited housing for women and their children puts these families at risk of remaining homeless”.
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, recently introduced legislation that would reimburse for child care in transitional housing for the first time.
Here are some programs that Final Salute Inc. offers.
The H.O.M.E Program provides transitional housing to homeless women Veterans and their children. The H.O.M.E Program focuses on integrating Veterans back into their local communities and providing vast, safe residential areas to choose from. Their H.O.M.E Program is a collaboration with our resource partners that includes targeted supportive services to assist women Veterans in reaching their goals.
The purpose of S.A.F.E is to prevent homelessness by easing financial hardships. S.A.F.E will provide rent, deposit and utility assistance to all women Veterans and U.S. military reserve component service members via an interest free loan or grant (by exception). The S.A.F.E program serves eligible applicants in DC, Maryland and Virginia (DC Metro Area). However, we have served women Veterans in other areas on a case-by-case exception. We know the need is great and will try to serve as many of our sisters in need, no matter their location.
Female Competition International hopes that by publishing articles like this one it may provide hope that we can continue to reduce the homeless population through our donations to qualified organizations along with our personal efforts. While we are elated about the progress and decline in the homeless population, we know we all still have a long way to go.
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Sources: Brainyquote.com, huffingtonpost.com, abcnews.go.com, walesonline.co.uk, cnn.com, thinkprogess.org, coalitionforthehomeless, womens-empowerment.org, nationalhomeless.org, today.com, theguardian.com, womenshealth.va.gov, finalsaluteinc.org, photos thanks to Wikimedia Commons.