Dedria Black, Deputy Director for Programs
Today is the annual day we Americans set aside to honor our Veterans. As a Veteran myself, I truly appreciate the national and local recognition of the sacrifices that Veterans have made for all of us throughout this country’s history. In my own life, in addition to reflecting on my years of service, I find myself actively renewing both my personal and professional commitment to our local Veterans experiencing homelessness. I feel deeply valued for my service and my new leadership role at San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) by the HSH Leadership Team.
Unfortunately, homelessness is a pervasive issue within the Veteran community. The 2019 Point in Time Count (PIT), an annual effort led by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to estimate the number of Americans, including Veterans, without safe, stable housing, is one of the tools used to assess progress each year toward VA’s priority goal of ending homelessness among Veterans.
The most recent San Francisco PIT Count, conducted in January of 2019, revealed an overall increase in San Francisco’s homeless population, but also showed that the number of homeless veterans declined by 14%.
San Francisco provides housing, shelter and services to nearly 14,000 people experiencing homelessness each day. This includes 10,000 people residing in 8,000 units of Permanent Supportive Housing.
When it comes to Veterans, the primary causes of homelessness are:
But numbers only tell part of a story. Nationally, women Veterans are the fastest growing group of homeless Veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. From the moment a woman joins the military, she encounters unique obstacles. Equipment is built for men. Job training is in male dominated fields that have strong gender bias outside of the military, leaving many women unemployable in post-military life. Even prosthetics are designed for men and often don’t fit women well. A woman can seem invisible in active service and as a veteran. A transgender woman in the military is likely to face stigmatizing experiences based on gender identity* (Stigma & Health 2019), leading to mental health issues, depression, anxiety and stress.
The underlying factors of women veteran homelessness are unemployment, domestic violence and single motherhood* (radio.com 2019). Women veterans will avoid acknowledging homelessness for fear of losing their children. It is critical that we remove these barriers for women. In San Francisco we have housing solutions that specifically address the needs of families, and women, and HSH is proud to partner with local providers who take the special needs of women veterans experiencing homeliness seriously. For example, HSH and our partners at the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Swords to Plowshares and Chinatown Community Development Center listened to the expertise of local women veterans and developed Edwin M. Lee Apartments to serve veterans and families as neighbors — a pairing requested by women veterans who often feel unsafe in male-dominated spaces.
The challenge is that so many veterans try to go it alone. The military teaches you independence — You’re a soldier. Additionally, many Veterans do not self-identify as such and female veterans are chronically underrepresented.
With San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s recently announced Homelessness Recovery plan, I believe we have a new opportunity through the equity of the City’s Coordinated Entry process to connect even more veterans to Housing Referral Status — a designation is equivalent to the number of housing opportunities expected to become available within a 90-day period much needed services and housing. The Mayor’s commitment to the largest one-time housing expansion in 20 years includes 1500 units of new permanent supportive housing. Veterans can connect to Coordinated Entry any time by calling 415–487–3300 x7000.
I stand with the Mayor, City Leadership, my colleagues at the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and our nonprofit Provider Partners in committing to making homelessness rare, brief and one-time in this City. And, to all the housed and unhoused veterans in San Francisco and across the nation, I say with the utmost sincerity, thank you for your service.