This week we’ve been talking about resources for homeless veterans and those at risk of being homeless. Here to give us a more up close and personal view on the subject is US Army recruiter and Ms Veteran America 2013, Allaina N. Guitron.
Allaina is intimately familiar with the topic of homelessness. When her single mother, who suffered from mental illness and substance abuse, couldn’t take care of Allaina and her siblings, they were placed in foster care. In 1996, as a freshman in high school, she was finally taken in by a friend’s family.
Despite a 13 year Army career with assignment highlights that include serving as a former Squad Leader at the 55th Signal Company at Ft Meade, Maryland, and as a Presidential videographer, Allaina has not forgotten the chaos and uncertainty that accompany homelessness. In addition to the steps she has taken to combat homelessness in her personal life (she gained custody of her brother in 2005), Allaina has embraced the opportunity to have a more public impact as the reigning Ms Veteran America.
1) You have said that you never considered yourself to be a pageant kind of girl, but you decided to participate in Ms Veteran America because you identified personally with the goal of the competition. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
A close friend of mine introduced me to the Ms Veteran American competition. Originally, I didn’t put much thought into it, since I had never competed. Then I realized that it was a uniquely different pageant, in that it recognizes the woman beyond the uniform(!), and supports a substantive cause, Final Salute Inc, an organization dedicated to providing safe and suitable housing to homeless women veterans. I can personally relate to the mission of Final Salute Inc; not only because I am a veteran, but because I understand the unique barriers these women face as they reach out for help. At that point, the real question became ‘how could I not compete?’
2) Women veterans are the fastest growing demographic among the homeless. More than 40% of women who serve on active duty are mothers, yet most facilities for homeless veterans are not funded or equipped for handling children. What else have you learned about homelessness among female veterans during your time as Ms Veteran America 2013?
I’ve learned that, due to the unique challenges women face as veterans, they are 3 times more likely to be homeless compared to their male counterparts and 4 times more likely to be homeless than the female non-veteran population. This is due [in part] to not having adequate programs available for women who have separated from the service. Women make up 15% of the military, but currently there are only a handful of centers dedicated to assisting women, to include women with children.
Not only are there an estimated 55,000 homeless women veterans on any given day, over half of them are single mothers! Yet, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (2011): “more than 60 percent of surveyed Grant Per Diem (GPD) programs that serve homeless women veterans did not house children, and most programs that did house children had restrictions on the ages or numbers of children.” These barriers play a significant role in getting these veterans into housing programs.
Some of these women also suffer from post-traumatic stress, military sexual trauma, divorce or separation, lack of family or social support networks, ineligibility or lack of programs, as well as disability. I could go on, the amount of evidence is astonishing. This is why these women need a voice, because no hero should be homeless.
3) As Ms Veteran America, you are obligated to perform 100 hours of community service and advocate on behalf of Final Salute, Inc., the competition sponsor and a non-profit which helps address the issue of homelessness among women veterans. Can you talk a little bit about how these requirements have helped you make an impact on the population of homeless women veterans?
Most are unaware that a homeless women veteran population exists. When people are uninformed, what can be done to fix the problem? This is why my time speaking on behalf of these women veterans is so important. In the few months of my reign, I have been able to get the word out. By educating and informing the public, I’ve been able to spark conversations with people in my community and bring national attention to the cause.
4) How would you say this experience has impacted you personally and your passion to make a difference in the lives of women veterans facing homelessness?
Having known these women veterans has forever changed my life. These women are heroes. When I hand over my crown, the mission doesn’t end there. I will continue to reach out and further the cause at any opportunity. The fight is not over until there is no longer a homeless women veteran population!
5) What advice would you give a female veteran struggling with homelessness or the fear of becoming homeless?
First, I would let her know that she is not alone! That there is a woman, named Jaspen Boothe, who was once in her shoes. Through her extenuating circumstances, she knew she had to make a difference. As a fellow veteran and former Army Captain, she made a commitment to “never leave a fallen comrade,” and through that promise, Final Salute Inc was created to support women veterans facing homelessness. Whether the female veteran is in need of emergency financial assistance, safe and affordable housing, or supportive programs such as job training, child care, job placement, and/or counseling services, we will stand beside her and provide her the necessary tools to regain her independence.
You can read more about Final Salute Inc, including a number of ways to support them, and the Ms Veteran America competition (registration for this year’s competition ends 30 April!) here.
© 2014, Sarah Maples. All rights reserved.