by Kimberly Miyazawa Frank
Chief Executive Officer, YWCA of O‘ahu
On a cold January night in 2011, roughly 68,000 veterans across the nation were spotted on the street without a roof over their heads. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says 144,842 veterans spent “at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program” throughout the course of the year.
In our state of Hawai‘i, roughly 1,100 veterans experienced homelessness at some point in 2011. Women made up about 5% of those veterans, and the U.S.VETS office in Hawai‘i fears their ranks will grow.
“The reality is the number of homeless women veterans is rising,” said Darryl Vincent, Chief Operating Officer of U.S.VETS. “Our women veterans are an underserved population, partly due to not having a facility and services specifically targeted to reach them.”
That’s why the YWCA of O‘ahu has made a commitment to fill that need. We teamed up with U.S.VETS to offer the state’s first transitional housing specifically designed for homeless women veterans, providing comprehensive and proactive assistance. YWCA Fernhurst in central Honolulu will be the home of this newest initiative, with 20 beds a night and three meals a day guaranteed to serve homeless women veterans. Participants in this program can take advantage of the services provided by both U.S.VETS and the VA, including clinical case management and job readiness training. The project will also address issues that are unique to women veterans, such as military sexual trauma (MST). The YWCA of O‘ahu also plans to make available its Economic Advancement programs, including Dress for Success® Honolulu, to help each veteran land a job and move to economic self-sufficiency.
The approach of this cooperative venture is also noteworthy. At a time when nonprofits around the country face financial and other challenges, this collaboration can represent a new model. It shows two organizations working together by leveraging the strength of each group. The YWCA of O‘ahu has a long history of offering safe transitional housing to women in Hawai‘i through Fernhurst. U.S.VETS is an expert in working with veterans assisting them with their reentry efforts to civilian communities.
This program was not hatched in a conference room or developed by committee. This spring, I listened to Darryl speaking at a local Rotary Club, addressing the extent of homelessness among veterans in Hawai‘i. I approached him and asked him exactly what they had for women. He said they were having trouble creating a dedicated program or space for women in their existing facility in west O‘ahu. We put our heads together and then applied for a federal grant to enable us to provide dedicated housing to women veterans.
This particular program addressed a need for a growing number of women—not just to cover the basics of shelter, but to do so in a way designed for women. As one woman who experienced homelessness and spent time at a male-dominated facility put it, “We have different needs and experiences (from men). It will be nice to be in the company of other women who understand exactly what you’ve been through and are going through.”
We are ready to serve those women who served our country unselfishly and whose needs have not been met by existing establishments and services.
Kimberly Miyazawa Frank is the CEO of YWCA of O‘ahu in Hawai‘i. Founded in 1990, YWCA of O‘ahu is the oldest and largest woman’s organization in the state with membership of 2,300.