The issue of homelessness among Veterans in the United States is one most people probably have a difficult time coming to terms with. How could we allow our men and women who have served this country to go without basic necessities? A startling new trend is quickly coming into focus.
In 2011 the Government Accountability Office reported that the numbers of homeless female veterans that have contacted the VA rose from just over 1,000 in 2006, to over 3,000 in 2010. And while exact numbers are not known, it is clear they are growing. Ten percent of Female Veterans are living in “poverty”, according to a 2013 Women Veteran Profile report, by the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. The highest rate is among those between the ages of 17 and 44.
Of particular concern are the numbers of those female service members that have children. This same survey fails to mention children even one time. The probability of none of these female veterans having children seems highly unlikely; but children are not mentioned even once. Back during the 2011 GAO survey, it was discovered that over 60% of housing that serves Female service members did not house children and those that did have restrictions on the age and number of kids. If that wasn’t shocking enough, according to this same study, some places indicate that they don’t provide assistance to female veterans because the VA would not reimburse them for the children they house. Clearly there’s a problem. Enter Jas Booth.
Booth understands this complete lack of acknowledgement and the struggles homeless female veterans face because she was one of them. In 2005 she experienced a set of circumstances that forced her into possible homelessness as a single mother. After losing everything in Hurricane Katrina she was faced with a discharge from the military because of a cancer diagnosis. When she began the task of exploring her options she found that there were no programs that would be able to assist her and her child.
After a full recovery, and several moves, Jas Booth found employment with the Army National Guard and is now living in the Washington, DC area. But she never forgot what she faced. Without the support of family and her own sheer determination, she might not have made it as far as she did. She decided change needed to happen and adopted the motto to “never leave a fallen comrade” in a whole new way.
In 2010 she founded Final Salute, Inc with the goal of providing specific assistance to female veterans, with or without children. Final Salute, Inc offers three programs to aid women of every rank and branch, including the National Guard and Reserve. There are three programs that Final Salute has created to help these women.
The H.O.M.E. program provides transitional housing, case management, child care subsidies/assistance, employment support; all while focusing on providing a safe and easy transition into the community.The S.A.F.E. program is designed to prevent homelessness altogether by providing emergency financial assistance, as well as resources to aid in saving and budgeting. Finally, the STAND-UP program provides further assistance to women in transition. These events, offered free of charge, gives women professional business attire, image consulting, a make-over and head shots for Linked-In profiles.
One of the more interesting ways that Final Salute, Inc chooses to do this is through the Ms. Veteran American Pageant. At first glance one might think, “How could a beauty pageant possibly help female veterans who are homeless?” It is a unique way to bring awareness to the issue of female homelessness; and as current title holder, Allaina Guitron says, “every one pays attention to a crown.”
The women who compete come from all walks of life, ranks, branches, and life experiences. The 2013 contestants included an amputee, survivors of military sexual assault, female veterans who have struggled with homelessness, a Native American and a number of other women who are just simply passionate about helping their fellow female veterans. Booth, creator of Ms. Veteran America pageant, hopes that it would be a way to further the cause. In its third year, Ms. Veteran America is gaining more contestants and more exposure.
The VA has recently begun to take steps to address issues of female homelessness among veterans. To find out more about what they are doing, and the programs currently in place visit their website.