The words homeless veteran do not immediately bring to mind that of a female homeless veteran. But, the VA says that women comprise the fastest-growing segment of the homeless veteran population.
In its 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that just over 40,000 veterans were homeless on a single night in January of that year. Of those, about 9 percent were women. From 2016 to 2017, the number of homeless female veterans increased by 7 percent, compared with 1 percent for their male counterparts.
In a 2016 report, the VA-funded National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans said the number of women identified by the program as homeless, or who accessed VA programs to end homelessness tripled to 36,443 in a five-year period ending in 2015. That figure, according to the center, is projected to rise by about 9 percent to nearly 40,000 by 2025.
Many homeless women veterans were victims of military sexual trauma and feel resentment towards the military and the VA, and as a result do not identify themselves as being a veteran. They tend to stay away from the organizations wishing to help them because they feel they were betrayed by that organization in the past.
According to VA’s National Center for PTSD, data from VA’s military sexual trauma screening program show that about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men respond “yes,” that they experienced sexual trauma or assault while in the military.
Also, homeless women veterans don’t fit the stereotype of your normal homeless person living on the streets. Female homeless veterans often have children and tend to temporarily stay with family or friends.
Just as homeless male veterans often don’t seek help because they were instilled with a sense of self-reliance and pride while in the military, female homeless veterans are also often caregivers for their children and have a very hard time asking for help.
On the campus of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds, MA the VA is taking a holistic approach to helping female veterans get back on their feet.
Nearly all of the residents at the center have experienced early childhood trauma, and more than 80 percent have encountered military sexual trauma,
Treating the entire person in the form of mind, body, and spirit helps female veterans regain their sense of self-worth and dignity, allowing them to transition back into the community.
The facility’s holistic program focuses on six dimensions of wellness: physical, social, emotional, occupational, spiritual, and intellectual.
The residents have access to activities that provide peer-to-peer support: yoga, workout, and art therapy classes, walking clubs, and sessions on spirituality, goal setting, and financial aid.
Social health is more important to a woman’s healing process than it is to a man’s. The VA is realizing that and tailoring treatments as necessary.