As Americans push for better treatment of women in the military, more organizations are also realizing the importance of helping females after they leave the service.
Female veterans have become the fastest-growing sector of the American homeless population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Health. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that last year, an estimated 8 percent of the 58,000 homeless veterans were women.
Which is why Volunteers of America sought to develop a complex focused on female vets and their children. Soon, one of the nation’s first housing projects dedicated to our women warriors will open its doors.
The Blue Butterfly Village, appropriately named since it sits perched atop a hill overlooking a butterfly preserve in San Pedro, California, will feature mental health services and after-school activities for children, according to Vincent Kane, director of the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans. (Male vets with children will be considered if they are responsible for household income.)
“These women are not damaged, they’re not ill,” said Robert Pratt, president of Volunteers of America Greater Los Angeles. “They’ve just had traumatic experiences. They need a place of their own.”
Those traumatic experiences can range from sexual assault to post-traumatic stress disorder. One in five female vets report sexual trauma — including rape — compared with the one in 100 men, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. And a 2012 Veteran Affairs report found that more than half of homeless female vets experienced sexual assault during service. And while the country is grappling with ways to prevent female sexual harassment within the military, many women don’t speak up out of fear of causing trouble. Adding to that stress and trauma is witnessing the brutality of war and how it affects young children and families.
Volunteers of America has doled out $15 million to build the Blue Butterfly housing project on land that the U.S. Navy vacated in 1997. The Navy deeded nine acres to the nonprofit as a part of its base reuse project following the shuttering of the Long Beach shipyards. The 74 town homes in the village take up about a third of the land, while the remaining acres were awarded to Marymount California University and Rolling Hills Preparatory School, according to Pratt.
While more emergency shelters and temporary housing assistance for female vets are cropping up, the majority of long-term housing aid is still directed at male veterans, according to Pratt. However, the San Pedro complex is aiming to change that by becoming a model for future female-centric housing projects across the country.