TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - The Veterans Administration says about nine percent of all homeless adults are veterans. Women make up the fastest-growing segment of the homeless veteran population, but a first-of-its-kind program is helping lower those numbers in the Tampa Bay area.
Tampa Crossroads opened Athena House 10 years ago, converting what used to be a rooming house for veterans returning for World War II into a safe haven for homeless women veterans. It was the first housing program for female veterans in the nation.
“It’s a place for them to come and be very safe and secure,” said Tampa Crossroads CEO Sara Romeo. “But also be able to get the help and assistance to get back out.”
Patti, an Army veteran, moved into the Athena House a little over a month ago after struggling with homelessness in Pinellas County.
“Having to pay for hotels, couches,” said Patti. “I finally said to a friend ‘Hey look, tell me what I can do.’ And he let me to Athena.”
When Athena House first opened a decade ago, there were more than 3,000 homeless veterans—both men and women—in Hillsborough County. Now there are fewer than 200 and only about a dozen women.
“We don’t see as many women homeless on the street because they usually have a stronger support group, or they can couch-surf a little longer, or get people to help them,” added Romeo.
Athena House offers its residents help on navigating VA programs, healthcare issues and searching for permanent housing. Patti is planning to stay at the house for a few more weeks, saving up enough money to find a place that is both affordable and comfortable.
“It’s been a godsend for me, yes, absolutely,” said Patti. “Giving me a chance to regroup and go on.”
Athena House has served more than a thousand women since it opened. It has room for 16 women, but the beds aren’t always filled. The house welcomes women from other parts of Florida and other states.