June 9, 2016 [Brian Albrecht, The Plain Dealer]
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Kristi Copez can appreciate what it means to be a homeless veteran, after spending some time in Cleveland area shelters and “couch-surfacing” with friends and relatives after her discharge from the Navy in 1982.
She also can appreciate the kind of opportunity offered in a new transitional home for homeless women vets that was recently completed and will open in September in Garfield Heights.
The four-bedroom refurbished house is a combined project of Women of Hope, Inc., a local nonprofit support group for homeless women vets (of which Copez is a board member), and the Cuyahoga Land Bank.
The house will provide a home for six women, for a maximum of two years, where they will receive counseling, mentoring, job search and education support services, and life-skills training.
“It’s a way to get healing on such a practical level,” Copez said.
Women of Hope is a nonprofit group created five years ago by Sheila Locatelli to provide safe, supportive housing for homeless women vets, and help them achieve economic self-sufficiency.
The group has been offering a program, “Strengthening the Inner Me,” for women served by the domiciliary at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center’s Wade Park Campus, which offers educational and employment/vocational programs, medical services, housing assistance and behavioral therapy to about 50 homeless women vets that it serves each year.
Some 15 of the 122 domiciliary’s beds are used by homeless women veterans — a demographic representing an estimated 10 percent of homeless veterans nationally. The Cleveland VA treated 8,713 female veterans in 2015.
Locatelli said residents for the house will be drawn from the domiciliary and other area shelters housing women veterans.
She noted that the house is “a step closer to being independent, being on your own. There’s more of a community going on here than at the domiciliary.”
The project started when a foreclosed and abandoned house was sold to the group by the Cuyahoga Land Bank for $1. Renovations by a group of more than 33 volunteers started just over a year ago.
Improvements included a new driveway, hot water tank, furnace, flooring, electrical and plumbing upgrades and painting.
Volunteers came from Laborers Local 310 and 373 and Local 26 Electrical Workers.
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the house on Wednesday, Doreen Cannon, president of Plumbers Local 55, said service trainees came in to make repairs. After touring the finished house, Cannon remarked, “It looks really nice. It’s an amazing opportunity for these women.”
Much of the materials for the estimated $17,000 worth of renovations also were donated by local companies including Messina Flooring, Home Depot, Famous Supply and Cleveland Plumbing Supply.
Gus Frangos, president of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, was impressed with the results.
He told a small group of volunteers and Women of Hope officials, “The heart and soul of the Land Bank is teaming up with organizations like this, and not just fixing a house, but fixing a house so lives can be fixed.”
All of the work thus far has been funded by private donations. Locatelli said she would seek some rent assistance for the women residents through VA grants, but noted that the bulk of funding for operation of the house will continue to come from donations, and community/corporate support.
“This project has been a journey for me, but it has been such a blessing because of the people in the community,” said Locatelli, who named the home “Ariya’s House” by combining the names of her two granddaughters.
The effort still has some remaining needs, including six twin mattresses, a washer and dryer, and bedroom chests of drawers.
Patricia James-Stewart, chief of the VA domiciliary, visited the house’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, and described the facility as a place for homeless women veterans to transition into the community.
The home’s value lies in “just being a part of a community. Many homeless women veterans have been estranged from all that,” she said. “Here they have a secure environment to do ‘normal’ activities and move on to better, successful living.”
She also noted that with the house, “The hope is that homeless female veterans can now appreciate that there are folks out there who care.”