Excerpted from AZ Central: The population of female veterans in the U.S. is small, but the challenges the women face to stave off homelessness are significant.
Sandra Keeme, 35, served in the U.S. Navy for seven years. She was deployed three times — twice to Iraq, once to Japan.
During her deployment to Japan, she was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier. She developed trust and anger issues and quickly spiraled into alcoholism after she left the Navy. She eventually became homeless.
Keeme is one of six women living at a transitional housing facility for veterans in downtown Phoenix, run by the Madison Street Veterans Association, a local non-profit that helps homeless vets. She has post-traumatic stress disorder as a secondary effect of military sexual trauma. PTSD and military sexual assault are common among women in the military and are increasingly gaining national attention as more women step forward.
“We’ve all been through kind of the same situation. Being a part of the veteran community is like you have automatically an extended family,” Keeme said, sitting on her bunk bed in the veteran women’s center at MANA House, which stands for Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force.
“Especially female veterans, there’s not that many of us, but there’s a lot more than there used to be,” she said. “We can identify with being surrounded by guys and being kind of taken for granted sometimes.”
Female veterans make up about 17 percent of the veteran population in the U.S., according to the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services.
MANA House provides transitional housing for homeless male veterans, and opened its doors to women earlier this year. It is one of the only resources specifically provided for homeless female veterans in the Valley. There is room for up to 16 women there.
The long-term viability of the women’s shelter at MANA House is unclear because it does not have a stable funding source. There are several fundraising efforts to pay for the women’s space until the organization’s leaders can find a stable source of money.
Sean Price, homeless-veterans-services coordinator for the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, indicated that the number of female veterans who become homeless is relatively small. But he said there are “unique challenges and needs for the women that do become homeless.”
“We don’t know how many women veterans are homeless in the Valley. I think one of the biggest reasons we don’t know is because of the domestic violence that is prevalent in the veteran world,” Price said.
At MANA House, the women openly talk about menopause and other female issues. The area looks more like a hospital emergency room, with pastel-colored plastic curtains used as partitions between bunk beds. But for the women, it’s a safe haven where they can work to stabilize themselves and work to find a home.
“This is really the only place for women, and they barely have room for us. We share the military. We share the homelessness,” said Bonnie Diaz, who served in the Air Force from 1987 to 1994. Keep reading