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Helen Fleming

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According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, female veterans are more likely than male homeless veterans to suffer serious psychiatric illness.

Meet 103-year-old WWII veteran Corporal Alyce (yes, Alyce) Dixon at their open house this Saturday.
By Jane Hess Collins

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, female veterans are more likely than male homeless veterans to suffer serious psychiatric illness.

When I think of homeless veterans, I think of a guy in his 60’s or 70’s who wears an olive green field jacket and a ball cap covered with little stick pins. I don’t think of a woman in her 30’s or 40’s with a child. Unfortunately, that is the emerging portrait of many of today’s homeless veterans, and Reverend (Dr.) Helen Fleming, pastor of the Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church, is doing something about it.

In just six months, Rev Fleming created the Women Veterans Resource Center. As they prepare for their second open house to offer assistance to homeless female veterans this Saturday, the Center needs donated career-style clothes, food, and volunteers with expertise in job preparation, computer skills, counseling survivors of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), legal or housing issues.

While the focus of the open house is to serve the homeless female veterans, it is also a celebration of military women. Corporal Dixon will have a story or two to share of her own, and Ms. E. Terri LaVelle, Director of the VA Center of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will deliver the keynote address.

Rev Fleming has galvanized the Urban Connection of Greater Washington, a cluster of 13 urban Methodist churches, along with the Washington, DC’s Executive Office of The Mayor/Office of Veteran Affairs and several U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) directorates to partner with her. Each of the 13 churches (and any other church who wants to join) serves as a satellite center to offer one or more of the support services that these women need.

A female veteran’s risk of developing PTSD is twice that of a male veteran, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many of these women suffer with PTSD from sexual harassment or assault in addition to battlefield stress. And since finding child care is an issue for more female veterans than their male counterparts, homelessness women risk losing custody of their children.

Over 150,000 women veterans live in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. While it’s nearly impossible to predict how many of them are homeless, most of them became so upon returning from their Guard or Reserve unit deployment or after their active-duty enlistment expired. Others, retired from the military, cannot stretch their retirement income to make ends meet. Still others live intermittently with friends, boyfriends, parents or grown children.

What surprised Rev Fleming the most as she met these women was that many of them had no idea where to go for help or the resources available to them. Nonetheless, she is optimistic about the Center’s future, and she plans to open family day centers throughout the District so they may interview and job-hunt without the added stress of finding child care.

Get Out and Give Back is now on Facebook. Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. She also established game nights for at-risk families throughout the country. You can contact her at www.getoutandgiveback.com.

Helen Fleming

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