The number of homeless women veterans has doubled from 1,380 in fiscal 2006 to 3,318 in fiscal 2010, reveals recent government estimates.

The number has grown as the overall number of women veterans has doubled from 4 percent of all veterans in 1990 to 8 percent, or an estimated 1.8 million, today. The number of women vets will also continue to increase as service members return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

While stressing that there is limited data on homeless women veterans, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study identified some characteristics among the homeless women veterans. Almost two-thirds were between 40 and 59 years old, and more than one-third had disabilities. Many also had minor children.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has several programs to house homeless veterans, with the two largest being the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program, which finances transitional housing and supportive services, and a joint program with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that’s known as HUD-VASH that offers permanent supportive housing. In 2011, HUD received a $50 million appropriation for rental assistance vouchers, and VA obligated $151 million for case management under HUD-VASH.

Although both the GPD program and HUD-VASH have expanded to serve more people, it is unclear whether they are meeting the needs of all homeless women vets, says the GAO.

Many of the homeless women veterans face barriers to accessing and using veterans housing, including lack of awareness about programs and limited housing for women with children.

For example, more than 60 percent of the surveyed GPD programs that serve homeless women vets did not house children, and most that did house children had restrictions on the ages or number of children.

Women also cited safety concerns about GPD housing. Nine of the 142 programs surveyed indicated that there had been reported incidents of sexual harassment or assault of women residents in the past five years.

Several steps should be taken to help address this problem, says the report.

The GAO recommends that the VA and HUD secretaries collaborate to ensure appropriate data is collected on homeless women veterans and to use the data to strategically plan for services.

The report also makes the following recommendations:

  • In order to ensure homeless women veterans have an appropriate place to stay while they await placement in GPD or HUD-VASH housing, the secretary of VA should ensure implementation of VA’s referral policies.
  • To better serve the needs of homeless women veterans with children, the secretary should also examine ways to improve transitional housing services for homeless women veterans with children.
  • To ensure that women veterans are safely housed, the VA should determine what gender-specific safety and security standards are needed for GPD programs, especially for those serving both women and men.