Friday, September 25, 2009
SAN DIEGO There's an estimated 7,500 homeless people living on the streets in San Diego County. One out of four are veterans of the military. A growing number of those homeless veterans are women. Like many vets one common problem is alcohol and drug abuse. At the Veterans Village of San Diego more female vets are seeking shelter and counseling than ever before. In the final part of our series War Comes Home.
"I always had to be the supportive one to hold everyone up," said Dawn Richardson, a college-educated mother of two and veteran of the navy.
"I was 17 years old in 1979," she said. "Went into the Navy and I went through a rape. So that kind of spun me out, but I was afraid to tell my family. I was afraid to tell anyone. I was embarrassed."
She buried those feelings for 20 years. She fell into drug addiction and ended up at the Veterans Village of San Diego. VVSD is a non-profit with many programs for veterans. The toughest challenge for a homeless vet isn't drug addiction, but asking for help.
Sandy Borum, an air force vet now working for Veterans Village, said, "Because as woman we think we have to keep it all together. Keep the family together. I know our nation says we're the weaker sex, but you know we keep it together."
Eleven years ago it all fell apart. Even for Borum. She was an air traffic controller who became addicted to drugs and alcohol. The next thing you, she was living in a dumpster.
"I don't know when I crossed that invisible line from living to merely existing," said Borum. "It just kind of happens. You're in your addiction, you keep looking at other people and you think I'm not as bad as him. And you don't' realize that you've hit the bottom."
Borum has been clean and sober for almost 11 years. She's now helping army veterans like Jaqueline Casiano. Casiano was homeless and a mere 90 pounds when she entered the program at VVSD.
"My spirit is so much better. I can laugh and I can smile," said Casiano. "My internal rhythm as far as having normal meals and medicine to help those things I was stressed about in my head. I don't feel stressed anymore."
The mental turmoil female vets face sometimes means losing custody of their children. That's what happened to army vet Carol Goodloe.
But after 9 months of rehab at the Veterans Village, Goodloe is thinking about some home cooking. She's moving out and will be reunited with her teenage daughters.
"I'll probably make this special meal I call SOS. And the kids love it," said Goodloe. "It contains potatoes and ground beef and of course onions and garlic, and the garlic is really good for your heart and other things in your body."
Goodloe's departure makes room for another female vet – waiting on a long list of those seeking a helping hand. Although California has the largest number of female vets in the nation, the VA has no record of how many them are homeless.