Ravenna – There’s a dilapidated old house on Crown Avenue that’s been through fire and abandonment. It was all but forgotten, if not for becoming a more noticeable eyesore. But thanks to the generosity of Ravenna attorney Tom Bird, the vision of Councilwoman Amy Michael, the social service support of Family & Community Services CEO Mark Frisone, and many others…this house is not only undergoing complete restoration, but it’s offering the same opportunity to the homeless women veterans who will eventually live there.
Homelessness among veterans is a growing problem nationwide, with women veterans especially vulnerable to the unanticipated fate. The fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population is women with children. Women veterans are four times more likely than their male counterparts to wind up homeless, and their numbers are growing, according to a joint report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs released in February. There are an estimated 6,500 homeless female veterans on America’s streets… double the number of a decade ago.
As is the case with male veterans, combat trauma, substance abuse and a difficult economy are the most common reasons female veterans become homeless. Add to that the likelihood of post traumatic stress, sleeplessness and battle injuries. Military sexual trauma and violent abusive relationships also are risk factors for female veterans, according to the government report.
Historically, most homeless shelters for veterans do not accept women, much less women with children, so female veterans who are single parents have been falling through the cracks when it comes to social services.
Women veterans now represent 6 percent of the total homeless population, according to Frisone. That represents 100 percent growth in just three years. Without any housing programs for them, homeless women veterans wind up in shelters for abused women or other homeless people. Unfortunately, these shelters don’t typically offer programs that address the specific needs of veterans.
F&CS operates the White House and the larger Freedom House transitional housing program in Kent for male veterans. Now the Miss Liberty House on Crown Street — donated to F&CS by Bird — is being renovated to meet the needs of local homeless female vets.
The house, which can accommodate up to three women veterans (or one female vet with children), will be the first facility dedicated solely to female veterans in the region. There’s nothing like this in Summit, Cuyahoga or elsewhere nearby, says Michael, who is credited with coming up with the idea to provide housing for homeless local female vets.
Work began this spring to gut the house and prepare it for complete renovation. Landscaping is under way, as well, as a community service project by the new Leadership Portage County class. A deck, shed and driveway will go in later this month.
About $30,000 has been provided by Community Development Block Grant funds through the Portage County Commissioners toward the $60,000 it is expected to take to rehabilitate the house. The balance of the funding must come from individual donations and public fundraisers. The hope is to get the home fully furnished by throwing a house-warming shower attended by women’s auxiliaries, Girl Scouts and other civic groups. The goal is for a female vet and her family (or three female veterans) to come home to Liberty House this Christmas, says Michael.
A Reverse Raffle featuring a $3,000 prize will be held July 16 at the VFW in Ravenna, co-sponsored by the VFW and American Legion. Meanwhile, supporters may send checks to F&CS, and write ‘Miss Liberty’ in the memo line.
“This is just a start,” Michael says of the effort to curb homelessness among local female vets. “It’s sad that this need is growing. But we’re doing what we can to change that.”
From start to finish, Michael says that Miss Liberty House is a community effort, with countless people giving of their time and resources to make the house a haven for women who have honorably served their country and fought for our freedoms. Now we can fight for them.