For homeless female veterans, help is hard to find

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramMarch 9, 2011 

FORT WORTH — Clara "Ruth" Gordon, an Air Force veteran, spent four years homeless, living in shelters along East Lancaster Avenue.

A lingering foot injury she says she suffered years ago while in the military limited her employment options. She stayed in three shelters while she looked for housing programs for homeless veterans.

She says she found plenty -- for men. But other than four beds in the Presbyterian Night Shelter, there was little for female veterans.

"There are special shelters for veterans, but they are all full of men," Gordon said. "Women were sort of on their own."

Most programs are geared toward men because female veterans are just a sliver of the homeless veteran population, officials say. But a recent federal report suggests that, as more woman serve in the military, the demographic will grow and agencies will need to expand services for female veterans, particularly those with children.

"Almost all the facilities built to help homeless veterans are built around the male model," said Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel and executive director of Grace After Fire, a Texas nonprofit that works to ensure that female veterans get equitable access to care. "You don't find them with child care, and playgrounds and common areas for women. We are going to need those kinds of places."

During a point-in-time survey in January 2009, 75,609 homeless veterans were in the U.S., about 5,500 in Texas, the report found. Female veterans made up about 8 percent of veterans in homeless shelters.

Some local agencies, such as Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County, are researching the possibility of developing homeless services for female veterans. The agency already operates Liberty House, a 30-bed facility for male veterans.

When it comes to housing, female veterans are probably the least-served of the veteran population, said Lenny Welpman, program manager at Liberty House.

"I think in some ways the need caught everybody off-guard," Welpman said. "But if you look at the dynamic of the modern soldier, we're going to have more women coming back from overseas. We have to prepare for it."

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