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Supporting Homeless Women Veterans in Florida

Tina Tchen, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, travels to Florida to learn about innovative programs to combat substance abuse and address the problem of homelessness for women veterans.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to help break ground on a transitional housing facility for homeless women veterans in Cocoa, Florida. Named Operation Home Front and run by the Center for Drug-Free Living, the new facility will provide integrated services to help residents address warfare trauma and substance abuse, gain employment, and transition to permanent housing. Operation Home Front will foster a safe, supportive community by housing 28 homeless female veterans and their children together. At a time when an estimated 13,000 women veterans are homeless, Operation Home Front is an example of the comprehensive strategies we need to help this group build strong families and become self-sufficient.

I attended the groundbreaking with Tammy Duckworth, Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. (You can read Director Kerlikowske’s Op-Ed on this project.)

In the afternoon, Director Kerlikowske and I had the privilege of visiting a treatment program where the Center for Drug-Free Living serves women and their children. We were able to meet with the women there and hear first-hand their stories of struggle, perseverance, and love for their children. The strength and courage of these women as they work to overcome their addictions was inspiring.

It was clear how important it is to provide treatment programs where women and their children can stay together – it’s better for these families, and it works. Studies show that 60% of the mothers in family-based treatment remain substance-free six months after discharge. Also, 88% of children treated in these programs remain stabilized and living with their mothers six months after discharge.  This approach is also cost-effective: the costs of family-based treatment are offset three to four times by savings from reduced costs of crime, foster care, and adverse birth outcomes.

However, a mere 5% of treatment programs offer family-based services for both parents and children. These programs need to be replicated and expanded; public-private partnerships, like the one that funds Operation Home Front, can help make these lifesaving services available to more families.

Tina M. Tchen is the Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls