For female veterans looking for a warm, safe place for them and their children to get back on their feet, there is a new alternative to the streets or grim, sometimes menacing homeless shelters.
A colonial brick home on a quiet suburban Virginia street has been added to the housing options for homeless women veterans, thanks to Final Salute Inc., an organization that is tackling the housing problem that confronts an estimated 13,000 women for whom post-military life has been distressful.
Final Salute Inc. recently held a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house in Alexandria, Va. to celebrate the completion of their latest transitional house.
“It’s a blessing to be able to open up another home in just a little over a year,” said Jas Boothe, retired Army captain and founder of Final Salute. She started Final Salute in 2010, opened a home for female veterans and their children in Fairfax, Va. in May and quickly followed with their latest home in Alexandria.
The new home has seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, three levels of living space and sits at the end of a quiet street adjacent to the Huntington Avenue Metro Station. The house is expected to be ready for women and their children to occupy Dec. 1.
“Even though the number is as big as 13,000 (homeless female veterans), you know at least they’ll be ten more we can help today,” Boothe proudly said.
According to Veterans Affairs, of an estimated 70,000 homeless veterans nearly 13,000 are female. A Government Accounting Report in 2011 found that many of the housing opportunities offered for women veterans are insufficient because they do not allow children or have restrictions on children’s ages. In a small number of cases, some of the housing providers reported incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault on women residents.
Many corporations, businesses and community organizations answered the call to help female veterans. Clark Construction, Wells Fargo, Volunteer Fairfax, Exelis Inc., Alexandria Lawn Service, RBJ Housing and the NFL Retired Player’s Association supplied financial donations, in-kind services and volunteer support to get the house ready for residents.
Many service members felt compelled to extend support to a group of veterans who have long been overlooked.
“It’s disgusting to hear that a female veteran is homeless,’’ said Byron Sheldon, former administrative chief for the Marines Corps. Sheldon is also president of the Dean K. Phillips Memorial Chapter 227 of the Vietnam Veterans of America who have been supporting Final Salute since mid-2011. “Dating back to my time on active duty, women veterans were ignored and they’re still ignored.”
“We’ve had so many women serve in this country and they come back. They have children and families but they have no jobs, nothing,” said Final Salute Board Member and Army Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Julia Cleckley. “I’m for doing whatever I can to provide services to all veterans but particularly female veterans because they’re the forgotten veteran.”
One beneficiary of this groundswell of support is Veronica, a veteran who asked that her last name not be published.
Veronica, who served eight years in the Navy, has lived in the Fairfax house for six months and is transitioning out after finding a job supporting disabled veterans. She found herself homeless after a divorce and has been struggling to find work for the past three years.
“Living in the house was like living with your sisters,” Veronica said. She attributes her ability to move forward to the “positivity and motivation” she felt while living in the transitional house.
Gale Paige, Final Salute’s newly appointed executive director and an Air Force veteran, is working hard to get the house up and running by December.
“We’ll need furniture for the bedrooms, a dining room set, basics like towels and toiletries and dishes for the cupboards,” Paige rapidly listed.
All they need now is the extra warmth to make a house a home.