VA Research reveals circumstances that can lead to homelessness among women Veterans
VA provides a full range of programs and services to help Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness secure stable housing and achieve independence. These resources are vital for all Veterans, especially women: Homelessness among female Veterans increased by 2% between 2018 and 2019, while homelessness among male Veterans declined by 3% during the same period.
Although women Veterans make up 10% of the Veteran population, their numbers have nearly doubled in the past decade, making them the fastest-growing segment of the Veteran population. VA research found that women Veterans are more than twice as likely to become homeless as women who did not serve in the military. Additionally, 1–2% of all women Veterans and 13–15% of women Veterans living in poverty will experience homelessness over the course of a year.
When a team of VHA researchers asked women Veterans experiencing homelessness to describe their “downward spiral” into homelessness, the experience of trauma before, during, and after military services was a common theme. Childhood adversity, substance abuse, relationship termination, military sexual trauma (MST), intimate partner violence (IPV), medical problems, a PTSD diagnosis, and unemployment were all associated with women Veterans’ experience of housing instability.
Homelessness for women Veterans may look different than it does for men. While men are more frequently on their own when homeless, women are more often accompanied by dependents. Men also are more likely to access emergency shelters or shorter-term transitional housing—programs often geared specifically for males. Women, however, tend to access VA homeless programs such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families and Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. In addition to helping to prevent or rapidly end homelessness among Veterans and ensure long-term stable housing, these programs offer the flexibility that women need to ensure the welfare of their children and families. Women also may double-up with friends or family members, making it difficult to identify them as experiencing homelessness.
One way VA identifies Veterans who are experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness is to ask them questions about their housing when they present for outpatient care. Responses to these questions reveal that women Veterans both experience housing instability and access VA’s homeless programs more frequently than male Veterans.
Safe, affordable, and functionally adequate housing is an important platform from which Veterans are able to accomplish their goals, including supporting family and other relationships, attaining and maintaining employment, and addressing their healthcare needs.
Since 2009, when the White House and the Secretary of the VA announced the goal of ending Veteran homelessness, the number and types of services intended to prevent and end housing instability among Veterans have grown. This has led to a 50% reduction in the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness on any given day.
VA continues to develop and implement innovative refinements to its homeless programs to address challenges to housing stability, such as limited or non-existent affordable housing in some communities, Veterans’ needs for longer-term housing subsidies, and the lack of social support. Further, research is ongoing to learn about the needs of women Veterans experiencing or at risk of housing instability and the best methods to address those needs.
By contacting their local VAMC or the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans, women Veterans can be immediately directed to programs and services that will provide them with the assistance and support they need to find or remain in a place they can call home.
Dr. Ann Elizabeth Montgomery is an Assistant Professor at the UAB School of Public Health in the Department of Health Behavior as well as an Investigator with VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans at the Birmingham VA Medical Center.