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Carolinas see bump in homeless female veterans

Aug. 14, 2011 - 02:41AM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 14, 2011 - 02:41AM  |  
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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The number of homeless women veterans is increasing in North Carolina and South Carolina as they become a larger part of the military, but the resources to help them are limited.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that

The state Department of Veterans Affairs says about 90 women veterans who are homeless live in the Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg, according to the Fayetteville Observer. Crisis Ministry in Charleston, S.C., says it provided temporary shelter to 28 female vets in the previous fiscal year, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

But the numbers aren't necessarily accurate because some people don't seek help or others bounce from home to home and never enter the system. The National Coalition for the Homeless says women account for 3 percent to 4 percent of the national population of homeless vets, which numbers about 200,000 nightly.

The main reason for the problem is that women account for more of the military. And as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, service providers expect the number of women who need help to grow.

"The resources are limited," said Stephanie Felder, homeless program coordinator for the VA in Fayetteville. "They are growing, but they're limited."

Andrea Ray of Fayetteville is one of those women who lived under the radar of service programs for years. Ray, who served more than eight years in the Navy, didn't have a steady home for nearly five years before receiving a VA voucher for subsidized housing. She was battling alcoholism and bounced from job to job until she got help in the form of one of 45 houses provided to veterans through a partnership between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Another 25 HUD houses became available for homeless veterans at the end of July.

The home has brought stability to Ray, her 8-year-old son and her 18-month-old daughter.

"Yes, I have to clean my kitchen. But at least it's my kitchen," Ray said. "It makes me think that things can be different, that things will get better."

Felder has organized several summits in Fayetteville to address homeless among veterans, with one scheduled for Tuesday. The summits bring together nonprofit organizations, employment agencies and city, state and federal agencies. Some of the issues to be discussed likely will come from a recent federal guide on providing care for homeless female veterans. The guide's introduction says women veterans are four times more likely to be unemployed than other women.

Sandra Perkins, who served from 1976-83 and was twice deployed to Germany, has been on a waiting list for subsidized housing for more than a year. She now lives at Crisis Ministries while getting medical treatment at the VA center and walking to substance-abuse meetings. She's enrolled in shelter's Work Keys program, which assesses job kills and helps participants become more marketable.

She thought her experience in the service would help her advance a civilian career, but instead, potential employers seem to dismiss her as a serious candidate, Perkins said.

"It didn't do what I thought it would do," she said.

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