Expanded shelter helps bridge gap for homeless women veterans

March 11, 2013

Nearly 2 million women in the U.S. are veterans, but many find themselves homeless after leaving the armed services. Now, homeless women veterans in the Valley have a new resource to help them get back on their feet.

Gabe Forsberg leads the color guard at a dedication ceremony for Mana House's newly-opened section that serves women veterans who are homeless. (Photo by Christopher Connelly) Gabe Forsberg leads the color guard at a dedication ceremony for Mana House's newly-opened section that serves women veterans who are homeless. (Photo by Christopher Connelly)

Mana House, a veteran’s homeless shelter in downtown Phoenix, held a dedication ceremony Monday celebrating a new section for women.

Terry Araman, director of the Madison Street Veterans Association, which runs Mana House, says more women in the military means more women veterans need help when they return from service.

 “They’re experiencing the same kind of stresses reintegrating back into civilian life that historically male veterans have encountered,” Araman said.

That includes post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and a host of other issues, he said.

Women veterans often face gender-specific issues too, according to Gabe Forsburg, who coordinated women’s programs for Arizona’s Department of Veteran Services

For example, she says, protective gear soldiers wear in combat zones during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is designed for men.

“A lot of the combat gear doesn’t conform to a woman’s body and it’s extremely heavy,” Forsburg said. ‘’So what we’re finding is the VA is experiencing a lot more musculo-skeletal issues that are being reported by the women who are coming back from deployment.”

Difficulty finding jobs that match skills acquired in the armed forces is a common problem for all veterans, but Forsberg says economic and social stresses are often more acute for women veterans who are single mothers. And many are also dealing with trauma from sexual assaults they survived while in the service.

All this compounds to make women veterans four times more likely to be homeless as civilian women, Forsbug says.  And they face twice the unemployment rate.

Mana House provides transitional services for homeless veterans by giving them a bed and meals, as well as connecting them with Veterans Affairs services and job training before they move on. The women's section at Mana House has 16 beds.  Right now, 10 of them are filled, but the shelter expects the rest to fill up soon.