In 2011, the percentage of homeless veterans who were female increased from 7.5% in 2009 to 10% of a population of 141,000 homeless veterans in 2011.
Returning female homeless veterans face substance abuse, mental illness, a lack of family housing veterans and jobs that pay well, and recover from military sexual trauma, which often leads to post traumatic stress disorder.
“They are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, an often-invisible group bouncing between sofa and air mattress, overnighting in public storage lockers, living in cars and learning to park inconspicuously on the outskirts of shopping centers to avoid the violence of the streets.”
Just one of the female veterans profiled in the article,
“Jennifer Cortez, 26, who excelled as an Army sergeant, training and mentoring other soldiers, has had difficulty finding work since leaving active duty in 2011. She wakes up on an air mattress on her mother’s living room floor, beneath the 12 medals she garnered in eight years, including two tours in Iraq. Job listings at minimum wage leave her feeling bewildered. ‘You think, wow, really?’ she said. “I served my country. So sweeping the floor is kind of hard.’ Not wanting to burden her family, she has lived briefly in her car, the only personal space she has.”
Without permanent homes of their own, homeless female veterans often fall into the typical cycle of ending up in hospitals, prisons and jails, living on the streets and shelters and addiction to alcohol and drugs. Many women entered the military to escape abuse only to be sexually abused or attacked once they enlisted. And that abuse is difficult to shake.
Much of the transitional housing that has been built for returning to veterans is not tailored to females, including women with children. This further increases their risk of homelessness but the Veterans Administration (VA) is working to address this through pilot programs that include free drop-in childcare.