It is as if people do not care about women veterans’ homelessness. We leave them jobless, homeless, and vulnerable to violence – despite fighting for Canada’s freedom.
November 11th is Remembrance Day—a day to acknowledge the bravery and sacrifice of those who risk their lives to serve our country.
While it is crucial to discuss the impacts of homelessness on all veterans, the experiences of women differ from their male counterparts. Being both a woman and a veteran causes this population to be at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness while being ignored in the homelessness sector’s response to veterans’ homelessness.
This blog explores the importance of addressing the unique needs of women veterans by including them in conversations about homelessness. It will discuss how, collectively, we can move forward to better help this vulnerable population.
What We Know About Women Veterans’ Homelessness in Canada
The number of women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals experiencing homelessness is extremely underestimated in Canada—especially for women veterans.
Women veterans are currently four times more likely to experience homelessness than women who did not serve in the military, accounting for 10% to 15% of the total number of veterans. However, women veterans represent 30% of shelter use among veterans.
An Overview: The Connection Between Women Veterans’ Experiences of Homelessness and Mental Health in Canada
The transition from military to civilian life can negatively affect women veterans’ mental health and substance use, which are known risk factors for homelessness. According to a survey developed by Statistics Canada, approximately 40% of veterans reported that the adjustment to life after service was difficult. Women veterans also experience a decline in income, which is attributable to lower labour force participation after release. This is a significant cause of homelessness and poverty among this population.
There is also a stronger connection between suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among homeless women veterans compared to homeless men veterans. Women and men veterans tend to experience different mental health issues. However, it is important to understand that this does mean that one sex struggles more than another; their struggles are simply different.
The Intersections of Sex, Veteran Status, and Homelessness
Women veterans’ homelessness is hidden and, therefore, underestimated because of how we define, measure, and respond to their housing needs and different experiences of homelessness. To understand how sex and veteran status affect the likelihood of becoming homeless, it is essential to recognize how these two factors intersect.
It is well established that violence is a cause of homelessness, and that sexual misconduct in the CAF against women is relatively common. Approximately three in ten (28%) women in the Regular Force experience targeted sexualized or discriminatory behaviour, compared to 13% of men, prior to their release. The trauma associated with these experiences can last well beyond a woman’s release from the military and may require specific supports for life after service.
There is a clear lack of intersectional research on veterans’ homelessness. The current research often ignores the complexity of women veterans, particularly when it comes to the issue of homelessness.
Sometimes it is easier to ignore the plights of others; it is often easier to turn away. However, by addressing the needs and concerns of this vulnerable group, we can prevent and end women veterans’ homelessness. Women veterans—and veterans broadly—fought for our country, and we should fight for them: for their safety, their health, and well-being.
Recommendations and Key Considerations
There are several recommendations and key considerations that should be part of addressing the problem of women veteran homelessness:
- We need an increase in Housing First funding for women veterans experiencing homelessness.
- The eligibility criteria for veteran benefits must be expanded beyond those who can demonstrate a connection between military service and their illness or injury—e.g., greater flexibility for local offices to distribute emergency funds to veterans.
- An evaluation of the gendered power dynamics is needed to ensure effective, gender-informed programming and services for women veterans in Canada.
Support Services for Women Veterans Across Canada
- BFLF Women Veterans Program is a program designed to help reduce the rate of isolation and suicide among women veterans by encouraging organizations to offer resources adapted to their unique needs.
- The Pepper Pod is a retreat centre for women veterans that aims to help develop a strong network for this population to assist with their transition to civilian life.
- The Women Veterans Research and Engagement Network is a group developed to amplify the voices and needs of military women in Canada.
- The Veteran Farm Project Society is an environmental rehabilitation program developed by a group of women veterans that provides programs that are specifically geared toward female veterans.
Note: For a more comprehensive and detailed reading on an intersectional approach to women veteran homelessness, see Michelle Dallocchio's article.