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Homelessness among women veterans is growing


Despite outreach, homelessness among women who have served in the U.S. armed forces is rising. The Department of Veterans Affairs says from 2020 to 2023, homelessness in this group increased nearly 24%. Alabama Public Radio's Cori Yonge reports on the alarming trend.

VALDOSTAH RHAMONE: I've had several salads out of here, so I don't mind doing the watering.

CORI YONGE, BYLINE: With her dog tags clearly visible on a beaded chain around her neck, a spry 76-year-old Valdostah Rhamone wraps up her chores at the Faith House in Pensacola, Fla. It's a nonprofit transitional home for single women veterans experiencing homelessness.

RHAMONE: There are people here that respect me, you know, in my situation.

YONGE: Her situation is complicated. She served in the military during the Vietnam War and beyond. A few months ago, she had a health scare, and someone stole her car. Her small military pension and social security weren't enough to cover her bills. A VA counselor connected her with Faith House. She's staying for free until she can find affordable housing.

RHAMONE: So I would like to be able to move forward, maybe within the next 90 days.

YONGE: With programs like voucher assistance and supportive services, the VA houses more than 38,000 veterans across the country. But income thresholds for those vouchers vary widely by region. The recent rise in homeless women veterans is alarming, says Jill Albanese, the VA's director of clinical operations for homeless programs.

JILL ALBANESE: A lot of this is attributed to the high cost of housing in many markets and in almost all markets now.

YONGE: She says in some cases, women veterans are also more likely to be affected by poverty and in need of housing.

BARBARA FRANCIS: And this is one of the (inaudible) rooms.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, they're pretty.

YONGE: Barbara Francis often shows off the cozy bedrooms at Faith House. Francis is a military veteran herself and president of the nonprofit Honor H.E.R. Foundation that runs the house. H.E.R. stands for honor, empower and rebuild. She says part of helping women veterans find housing is convincing them that they're entitled to VA benefits.

FRANCIS: They'll think, I didn't serve in a wartime. I didn't go, you know, serving the Gulf War. I just sat in the office. But you served. You served a purpose. You served your country.

YONGE: And there are other challenges women veterans face that can cause homelessness, says Francis. They include military sexual trauma, intimate partner violence and substance abuse. At Faith House, she says, veterans frequently arrive with nothing.

FRANCIS: Most oftentimes, it's what's on their back.

YONGE: Women can stay at Faith House up to a year. It relies solely on donations. And one of its biggest funders is a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. They recently donated money to install new air conditioning. The group's Carol Salsamendi says it's important to care for female soldiers.

CAROL SALSAMENDI: We just are not conditioned to think that women are a vital part of our veterans.

YONGE: And they're growing. The VA expects women to make up almost a fifth of veterans by 2048. For NPR News, I'm Cori Yonge in Pensacola.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZQQRT SONG, "QLT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Cori Yonge
[Copyright 2024 Alabama Public Radio]