"Homelessness and trauma go hand-in-hand": pathways to homelessness among women veterans

Womens Health Issues. 2011 Jul-Aug;21(4 Suppl):S203-9. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2011.04.005.


Background: Veterans comprise a disproportionate fraction of the nation's homeless population, with women veterans up to four times more likely to be homeless than non-veteran women. This paper provides a grounded description of women veterans' pathways into homelessness.

Methods: Three focus groups were held in Los Angeles, California, with a total of 29 homeless women veterans.

Results: Five predominant "roots" (precipitating experiences) initiated pathways toward homelessness: 1) childhood adversity, 2) trauma and/or substance abuse during military service, 3) post-military abuse, adversity, and/or relationship termination, 4) post-military mental health, substance abuse, and/or medical problems, and 5) unemployment. Contextual factors, which promoted development of homelessness in the setting of primary roots, included women veterans' "survivor instinct," lack of social support and resources, sense of isolation, pronounced sense of independence, and barriers to care. These contextual factors also reinforced persistence of the roots of post-military adversity and mental health and substance abuse problems, serving to maintain cycles of chronic homelessness.

Conclusion: Collectively, these multiple, interacting roots and contextual factors form a "web of vulnerability" that is a target for action. Multiple points along the pathways to homelessness represent critical junctures for VA and community-based organizations to engage in prevention or intervention efforts on behalf of women veterans. Considering the multiple, interconnected challenges that these women veterans described, solutions to homelessness should address multiple risk factors, include trauma-informed care that acknowledges women veterans' traumatic experiences, and incorporate holistic responses that can contribute to healing and recovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons*
  • Los Angeles
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Unemployment
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Wounds and Injuries*
  • Young Adult