WASHINGTON - Homelessness and economic struggles are escalating among female veterans, whose numbers have grown during the past decade of US wars while resources for them have not kept up.
The population of female veterans without permanent shelter has more than doubled in the last half-dozen years and may continue climbing now that the Iraq war has ended, sending women home with the same stresses as their male counterparts - plus some gender-specific ones that make them more susceptible to homelessness.
The problem, a hurdle to the Obama administration’s stated goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by 2015, is exacerbated by a shortage of temporary housing specifically designed to be safe and welcoming to women or mothers with children.
The increase comes even as the overall homeless veteran population has dropped by nearly 12 percent to about 67,500 between January 2010 and January 2011, officials say.
Veterans’ homelessness, the subject of a March congressional hearing, has received fresh attention amid government reports documenting the numbers and identifying widespread flaws in buildings that shelter veterans.
“I think it’s very clear that women veterans in particular lack the services they need,’’ Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, said in an interview.
Female veterans make up about 8 percent of all veterans, or about 1.8 million, compared with 4 percent in 1990. The number of homeless female veterans has more than doubled from 1,380 to 3,328 between fiscal years 2006 and 2010, according to a December Government Accountability Office report that found many with young children and nearly two-thirds between ages 40 and 59.
A new report from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general examining housing that receives VA grants found bedrooms and bathrooms without locks, poorly lit hallways, and women housed in facilities approved for men only. Nearly a third of the 26 facilities reviewed did not have adequate safety precautions.
One female veteran and her 18-month-old son were placed in the same facility as a male veteran who was a registered sex offender.