Approximately 4,300 women veterans are homeless at any given time, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. When Cindy Seymour, a former Air Force sergeant, heard that number, she knew she had to do something to help her sisters-in-arms.
In 2011, Seymour founded Serenity for Women, an organization that works to improve the lives of women transitioning from the military into civilian life. The Syracuse, New York-based nonprofit does this by building transitional “tiny” homes for homeless female veterans and also connecting them with local support services.
An estimated 1.4 million veterans are at risk of becoming homeless, and women vets make up ten percent of the homeless veteran population, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Job support and financial assistance are both critical in reducing homeless veteran populations. But women vets have additional needs that require more nuanced solutions.
“Women veterans absolutely require a different approach of outreach and support than their male counterparts,” says Anna Stormer with the Women Veterans Center in Philadelphia, which reached “functional zero,” or when homelessness is essentially eradicated among veterans, in 2015. Women face a number of unique barriers when accessing services, Stormer says. “A lot of women truly are unaware of the benefits for which they qualify.”
The Women Veterans Center, for example, uses a “trauma informed” approach to help empower female veterans in making long-term housing decisions. This method addresses issues that impact many female vets, like post-traumatic stress disorder. The center also features play areas to occupy kids while their mothers are with social services.
To be connected with [the community] I think is important, and to have an organization that is vet-specific,” says Andrew McCawley, president and CEO of the New England Center and Home for Veterans (NECHV).
With financing from Citi, NECHV created a designated floor for women and expanded its mental healthcare facilities.
NECHV’s program is one of a number of initiatives across the country with the goal of helping homeless veterans. The Bring Them Homes initiative, run by the LISC-National Equity Fund (NEF) and supported by Citi Community Development, gives pre-development grants to nonprofits that provide supportive housing to homeless veterans. So far, Bring Them Homes has created nearly 4,000 housing units, and also offers a variety of support services to vets in need.
“The greatest need is with single adults, and the percentages have been increasing with women,” says Debbie Burkart, vice president of supportive housing for NEF. “These vets deserve special attention. They have selflessly given to this country and then they’ve come back and, in some cases, we haven’t done enough to take care of them. They shouldn’t end up on the street.”
Much like Bring Them Homes, the tiny homes program in Syracuse embeds supportive services into the housing process. Once construction on the tiny homes is finished, the only thing the women need to bring is themselves — and a willingness to take part in programs that help them secure jobs and receive therapy.