MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Women who served are the largest growing segment of our nation’s homeless veteran population.

That’s why the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) dedicated this year as the “Year of the Woman,” and are helping Minnesota’s veterans find a Home for the Holidays.

“We have more women serving in the military. That means we have more women veterans coming out of the military. And just like any other veterans, issues of homelessness are very real,” Trista Matascastillo said.

She has served for 16 years, and knows first-hand the unique struggles women veteran face.

“We know that women are experiencing harassment, sexual assault, in addition to their normal military issues or trauma of war — all of those things compiled will often make us turn away from our identity,” Matascastillo said.

According to the VA’s Medical Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, one in four women responded “yes” when asked if they experienced sexual assault while serving in the military. Many women leave the military feeling resentment towards their service and the VA because of their experiences.

(credit: CBS)

“Sometimes the nature in which they were discharged makes people, again, not talk about their military service, or exclude themselves from receiving services,” Matascastillo said.

MACV’s focus this year is on women veterans. Working with its community partners, MACV is making its presence known at homeless encampments in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“We have outreach workers that are out there on the street at the base level talking to folks to find out if they have served in the military,” Matascastillo said.

Once they are identified, that’s when the help begins, with MACV focusing on getting them housed.

“Until they know where they are going to sleep tonight, they are in survival mode,” Matascastillo said.

MACV recently opened up a new home for women veterans who are homeless. There are currently 20 women on the homeless registry; MACV has already housed 25 women Vets this year.

Matascastillo says the number fluctuates; as women veterans get help, more ask for it. The new home will house five women veterans and their families.

“There is also the complication of family and children, so we know that when we house a woman veteran we likely will be housing her children as well. We know that that is super critical that we are able to take care of families as well,” she said.

There are more than 30,000 Minnesota women who served in the military. MACV hopes to honor their sacrifice. Every dollar donated goes directly to veterans in need, and no amount is too small to make a difference. Click here for more information on how to donate.

Reg Chapman