The Veterans Affairs Department is in the middle of an ambitious five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans by 2015. It should make sure that this effort protects the vulnerable population of women, whose risks and needs can be far different from those of men.
The number of female veterans has soared since 1990, from 4 percent of all veterans to 8 percent today, or about 1.8 million. How many are homeless is unknown, though a report by the Government Accountability Office in December found that the number who had contact with the V.A. rose to 3,328 in 2010 from 1,380 in 2006.
Lack of information is part of the problem. The report said that neither the V.A. nor the Department of Housing and Urban Development collects sufficiently detailed information about homeless female veterans, making it harder to plan effective programs, allocate money and track progress. The report found that the V.A. sometimes failed to refer homeless women to short-term housing while they waited for housing vouchers. It noted that the agency lacked safety standards for shelter providers, even though many women said they feared sexual harassment and assault. And some shelters discriminated against homeless mothers by limiting the age or number of children they take.
A report in March by the V.A. inspector general echoed these concerns, saying some shelters lacked basic protections like working locks and separate floors for men and women. The V.A.’s inattention to safety and privacy is especially troubling because rates of sexual trauma and domestic violence tend to be high among homeless female veterans.
Both reports found the V.A. has to do much more to protect all vulnerable veterans. To help homeless women, programs should be designed with them in mind.
Reprinted from The New York Times, Copyright 2012
A version of this editorial appeared in print on April 17, 2012, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Homelessness Among Female Veterans.