The number of women veterans who become homeless after returning to civilian life is on the rise. This increasing rate of homelessness among women veterans is due to many factors that affect all genders who have served in the military such as brain injuries, drug and alcohol abuse, and post-traumatic stress. However, the increase in the homeless women veteran population is also likely due to stresses that disproportionately affect women such as sexual assault, domestic violence, single parenthood, and pregnancy.
As we have reported previously, there is a shockingly high number of servicewomen who are sexually assaulted while in active service and the military has often failed to deal with the crime appropriately. Trying to cope after surviving rape in the military is one factor that is likely to blame for the rise in the women veteran homeless population. Indeed, the Huffington Post reported “that 20 percent of female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced Military Sexual Abuse, a trauma that is more likely to impede a veteran’s transition back to society than a combat-related trauma.”
While some women veterans must try to cope with trauma experienced while in military service, other servicewomen, such as Ruth Donaldson, must try to transition back to civilian life while experiencing violence at home.
Donaldson said she was diagnosed with PTSD [after having served as an ammunition specialist], even though she did not serve in combat. She moved out [of her home] after her then-husband, a soldier, physically abused her, she said.
She managed to get an apartment, but after she lost her gas station job, she couldn’t afford her rent.
A friend told her about Jubilee House [a homeless shelter for female veterans], where Donaldson now has a room for her and her son, Dante.
Like Donaldson, many women veterans find themselves struggling to support not only themselves but children after returning from military service. Increasing awareness of this issue has produced more homeless shelters that specialize in the type of services women veterans often need, such as beds for their children and care for those who have survived military sexual trauma. However, shelters that provide these services, while growing in number, are still rare. Stephanie Felder, the Fayetteville, NC Veteran Affairs homeless program coordinator told the Los Angeles Times that “the community is more aware [of the need for increased services for homeless female veterans]…But there just isn’t [sic] enough beds [in homeless shelters for veterans], especially for women and children.”
The Huffington Post reported that “homelessness among female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has increased every year for the last six years — from 150 in 2006 to 1,700 this year.” To find out more about the needs of homeless veterans, visit the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website.