BY JENNIFER CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING – A growing number of female veterans in the state are living in the streets or homeless shelters, according to the Michigan Women’s Commission.
About 45,400 female veterans live in Michigan, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics.
Michigan has no specific program targeting homeless female veterans, but efforts are being made to improve their access to all programs, said Susy Avery, executive director of the commission.
A rough estimate of homeless veterans in the state is 4,000, but there is no data on female ones, said Angela Simpson, deputy public affairs officer for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Nationally, the number of female veterans doubled from 4 to 8 percent between 1990 and 2010.
The number of homeless female veterans nationally doubled from 1,380 in 2006 to 3,328 in 2010, according to a recent report from the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“We identified some characteristics of these women. For example, almost two-thirds were between 40 to 59 years old and more than one-third had a disability. More than 60 percent of programs served homeless female veterans, but didn’t house their children,” said Daniel Bertoni, director of Education, Workforce and Income Security Issues at GAO.
A GAO investigation found that although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers referrals for shelters or short-term housing, some homeless women veterans said they didn’t receive such referrals or even know about them.
According to the report, homeless women veterans are difficult to find, which poses a major barrier to serving them, allocate grants and track progress toward the goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by 2015.
“Without shelters or temporary housing, homeless veterans may be at risk of physical harm and further trauma on the street or in other unsafe places,” Bertoni said.
Many community organizations, veteran organizations, churches and other organizations offer financial aid to veterans, but they have no access to homeless veterans.
“The only way we can get connected with the homeless veterans is for him or her to contact us directly or through their families or friends,” said Neal Horning, vice commander of the American Legion in Traverse City.
According to a U.S. Labor Department guide for women veterans, the military’s culture of independence and self-sufficiency may interfere with a veteran’s desire to ask for help.
One homeless female veteran said in the guide that she learned in the military to take care of herself. If she reported her homeless situation, it would be public knowledge and she was taught not to ask for help.
Female veterans are at four times the risk of homelessness than their civilian counterparts, the guide states. Unemployment is a significant cause of homelessness.
“The state ranks 53rd for all states and territories for Veterans Administration disbursements to veterans – whether they are male or female,” Avery said.
The veterans’ unemployment rate is much higher than the overall Michigan rate, Avery of the Women’s Commission said.
She said Gov. Rick Snyder has convened a work group to look at veterans issue, specifically employment. He has made getting more federal money for veterans a goal.
“One strategy is to work with the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, since most veterans reside in the Southeast Michigan tri-county area, to highlight the qualifications that veterans bring to the table. Another strategy will be to host the National Veterans Small Business Expo in Detroit in June,” said Avery.
“For example in Macomb County, the Department of Human Services and the county veteran’s office have a pilot program where both agencies are in a single location and have cross-trained their staffs.”
However, she said many veterans have not signed up for federal benefits or state programs.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
BY JENNIFER CHEN