Are We Doing All We Can to Help Homeless Female Veterans?
As we celebrate our veterans today, I want to talk to you about a very specific segment of that population – homeless women veterans. I know their story well, because it’s my story too. My name is Julia Kelly and I’m a formerly homeless U.S. Army veteran.
My story is not stereotypical. I did not serve any tours overseas or dedicate my entire career to military service, but I served my country – two years as a soldier and 10 years as an Army wife. After my military service and marriage ended, I moved back home to Atlanta with my daughter. It was 1993. From that period until last year, things were going great. I was working and making good money, then, I lost my job. I’ll never forget the day – January 2, 2013. In a matter of months, my severance ran out, then my unemployment. I couldn’t pay my rent, so I lost my place. I was officially homeless – one of hundreds of homeless female veterans in Greater Atlanta. Unlike my situation, a lot of those women have young children, have been physically or sexually abused, have PTSD or other mental health issues. Family members would have helped me, If I’d only asked, including my daughter, who had just started teaching. I also could have reached out to my pastor or church for assistance, but my pride wouldn’t let me. Fortunately, an older friend, who is like a mother figure to me, knew I was struggling and allowed me to stay in her home. Determined to get back on my feet, I started taking classes at Beulah Heights University. It was there that I met Kinte Rollins, a member of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Peers Reaching Out Team (PRO). PRO Team members are people who were once homeless and now work to help others facing the same struggle. Kinte invited me to United Way where I received additional assistance and joined the team. A short while later, United Way offered me a job as a homelessness intake coordinator. The PRO Team and United Way programs like Vets Connect have been able to help me and connect hundreds of other formerly homeless veterans with case managers, services and transitional housing. What these programs do is necessary and very important. Still, I often think about homeless female veterans – those living on the streets with their kids, dealing with mental health issues, healing from physical and sexual abuse, and who are seeking help. Each one has her own story and deserves a chance at success. So I wonder, are we – United Way and the country in general – doing enough to meet needs of our female veterans – homeless or otherwise? Leave your comments below.