Homeless Female Veterans Get Housing, New Lease on Life
Florida Today – Janet O’Sullivan feels like her life is back on track.
Recently on the verge of homelessness, the U.S. Navy veteran now lives at the new Operation Home Front, an apartment building operated by the Center for Drug Free Living, that houses female veterans and their children. It officially opened Tuesday morning.
“I had hopes and dreams and lost them,” she said. “They provided me with the opportunity to reclaim my dreams.”
Since moving into the complex that will provide housing for up to 28 women and children, O’Sullivan, 57, has received a Veterans Retraining and Assistance Program grant to study network systems technology at Brevard Community College. She said she is now full of hope. O’Sullivan wants to get a car so she can start a window-washing business while she attends college.
“It’s nice to get up in the morning knowing where you’re going to sleep,” she said.
O’Sullivan and six other women and three children already live at the newly opened Operation Home Front off Grissom Parkway in Cocoa. The $1.75 million, 8,486-square-foot center also will provide the women with job-search assistance and substance abuse and mental health disorder services.
It is the area’s only transitional home exclusively for female veterans and their children. The goal is for the women to find permanent housing in two years or less.
“There is nothing like this in Central Florida,” said Steven Shea, chief of psychology and director of mental health and behavioral science at Orlando VA Medical Center. “We’re exceptionally excited about this partnership.”
About 72,000 people, or 21 percent of the Brevard population older than 18 are veterans; 6,200 are women.
Helping fund the construction were a $1.049 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs and $400,000 from the Florida Department of Children and Family Homeless Housing Assistance. Another $250,000 came from private donor Virginia Schenck and $50,743 from The Center for Drug-Free Living.
Dick Jacobs, president and chief operating officer of the Center for Drug Free Living, said local veterans groups provided furniture and supplies for the apartments. And many others helped make the home a reality for the female veterans.
“It’s great to give back to a community that has given so much to us,” Jacobs said. “It’s been a vision that many in the community and the Center for Drug Free Living had.”
Schenck said she helped fund the home’s construction because she wants to make sure the organization remains viable. She said the Center for Drug Free Living helped her granddaughter, who once struggled with drugs, and she wants to see the women succeed.
“This is a pivotal part of their lives,” she said.
After a “Virginia’s Garden” marker was revealed dedicating the complex’s garden to her, Schenck invited the audience to sing along with her on “My Country Tis of Thee” and “The White Cliffs of Dover.”
Margaret Kaderabek, a resident at Operation Home Front, said she has gained new hope and confidence, especially after listening to two of the guest speakers, Diane Schmidt and Susan Jeter, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Schmidt to told an audience of about 80 how she was pregnant, battered and homeless, living in her car in the parking lot of a hospital, but never lost hope and had a plan for moving ahead.
Schmidt is commander of American Legion Post 328 in Christmas. The child she was carrying is now 34 years old, also a military veteran, who is a sophomore at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and a member of National Honor Society.
Jeter, commander of the Brevard County Jail, told the crowd about having to live in her car while struggling through college when she was late paying her dorm rent and told she had to leave. She moved back to Brevard County and went to work for the Sheriff’s Office, working her way up to commander.
Summer Tipton, who had been homeless and moved from place to place after leaving the Army, said she now feels at home at Operation Home Front.
“This place has given me hope,” said Tipton, who suffers from neck and back problems, as well as depression.
She said that after months of trying to get disability benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday approved her benefits.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” she said. “I’m so relieved right now.”
Source: FloridaToday.com, August 14, 2012, by Malcolm Denemark and Tim Walters