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VFW Magazine March 2017 : Page 20

Photo CoURtESY oF FINAL SALUtE Homeless Female Vets Find a Hand Started by a female veteran, Final Salute Inc. aims to keep women from becoming homeless. For those who are already without a roof over their heads, transitional housing is available. By Janie Dyhouse W 20 • VFW  • MARCH 2017 hile the number of homeless veterans is decreasing, the number of female home-less veterans continues to rise, says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of women vets who are homeless has more than tri-pled since 2006. That number is currently more than 4,000, but does not take into account those who are sleeping on the couches of friends and family. No one knows this statistic better than Jaspen Boothe, referred to as Jas. At one time, she, too, was homeless. In 2005, she was a single mom in the Army Reserve living in New Orleans. One of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, Hurricane Katrina, hit in August of that year. Boothe lost everything to the storm. Fortunately, she was at Fort Sill, Okla., training for deploy-ment to Iraq, and her 9-year-old son, Branden, was staying with her aunt. Boothe’s plans for deployment were derailed in September 2005 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive head, neck and throat cancer. She spent six months at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for surgery and radiation treatment. She recognized that she was technically homeless and needed to find a job for when her treatment was complete. All of her personal belongings had washed away in Katrina . Boothe flew back and forth to Missouri, her home state, to interview for jobs in the midst of her radiation treatment. After she realized the military could not help her find housing, she turned to the VA to see what assistance was offered to female Up

Homeless Women Vets

Janie Dyhouse

Started by a female veteran, Final Salute Inc. aims to keep women from becoming homeless. For those who are already without a roof over their heads, transitional housing is available.

While the number of homeless veterans is decreasing, the number of female homeless veterans continues to rise, says the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of women vets who are homeless has more than tripled since 2006. That number is currently more than 4,000, but does not take into account those who are sleeping on the couches of friends and family.

No one knows this statistic better than Jaspen Boothe, referred to as Jas. At one time, she, too, was homeless. In 2005, she was a single mom in the Army Reserve living in New Orleans. One of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, Hurricane Katrina, hit in August of that year. Boothe lost everything to the storm.

Fortunately, she was at Fort Sill, Okla., training for deployment to Iraq, and her 9-year-old son, Branden, was staying with her aunt. Boothe’s plans for deployment were derailed in September 2005 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive head, neck and throat cancer.

She spent six months at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for surgery and radiation treatment. She recognized that she was technically homeless and needed to find a job for when her treatment was complete. All of her personal belongings had washed away in Katrina.

Boothe flew back and forth to Missouri, her home state, to interview for jobs in the midst of her radiation treatment. After she realized the military could not help her find housing, she turned to the VA to see what assistance was offered to female vets with children. To her surprise and frustration, none existed.

“I was told to go get on welfare and apply for food stamps,” Boothe said. “This was such an insult, a slap in the face, really. It became obvious that America didn’t see us as equal to men since there was plenty of assistance for men.”

Boothe ended up sleeping on her aunt’s couch. She got a job in Missouri with the Army National Guard. Eventually, Boothe landed a civilian job working on benefits for the Army National Guard in Washington, D.C.

While there, she heard numerous stories similar to her own and vowed to do something about it. She later deployed to Kosovo in 2008 with the Missouri National Guard.

“It was so shocking to me to learn that so many women had been forgotten by their country,” Boothe said. “We served our country and made the same sacrifices as men.”

Determined to make a difference, Boothe took a $15,000 advance on her credit card in 2010 to start Final Salute Inc.

The nonprofit provides temporary shelter, counseling, child care and helps find permanent housing for military women and their families.

Women and their children can stay at the Final Salute home located in Alexandria, Va., for up to two years. They must pitch in with cooking and cleaning and contribute toward food and utilities once they find jobs.

Since Final Salute is privately funded, Boothe, known affectionately as the “Crazy Idea Lady,” founded Ms. Veteran America (see page 60), a competition designed to bring awareness to the plight of homeless female vets.

Part of the competition is fundraising. To date, more than $310,000 has been raised to help the cause. That money has provided transitional housing for 10,000 days and assisted some 2,000 women veterans and their children.

The Ms. Veteran America competition, according to its website, highlights more than the strength, courage and sacrifice of the nation’s military women. It also serves as a reminder that these women are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives.

“We don’t like to be portrayed as damsels in distress,” said Boothe, who is now married with two children. “We are women warriors and Ms. Veteran America shows that.”

RESERVIST FINDS HOPE AT FINAL SALUTE

One of the top 25 finalists in the 2016 Ms. Veteran America competition was Chiquita Pena, a two-time Afghanistan War veteran who once benefited from a hand up from Final Salute.

Serving in the Army Reserves, Pena deployed to Afghanistan 2009-2010. When she returned home, though, she discovered the company for which she worked in the civilian sector had been restructured. Even though Federal law guaranteed that Pena’s company re-instate her, the firm had instituted a hiring freeze in her absence.

With no full-time position, Pena fell on hard times and had no place for her and her daughter, Nayeli, to live.

She met Boothe at a job fair. Always helping her sisters in and out of uniform, Boothe got Pena and Nayeli into one of the Final Salute transitional homes.

Pena later married her battle buddy, Karl, and the duo were scheduled to deploy to Iraq in 2013. Their hearts were hurting at the thought of leaving Nayeli behind. They weren’t even sure where she would live while they deployed.

That’s when they decided to ask Boothe, who didn’t even pause before saying yes, to keep their little girl.

“I don’t think I could have made a better decision in terms of where I was going to leave her,” Pena said. “I had absolute comfort at all times about her safety and well-being. I’m beyond grateful.”

For Boothe, who is now married and has a second son, Jammel, it was a no-brainer.

“I kept Nayeli as a fellow female veteran who saw a sister in need,” Boothe said. “At Final Salute, we are a community, and we’re a sisterhood.”

Today, Pena is in school full time studying communications. Her husband is in the IT industry in Virginia.

“Jaspen has the biggest heart of any woman I’ve ever met,” Pena said. “There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for female veterans.”

VET MOVES FROM CAR TO FINAL SALUTE HOME

Anne-Marie Dixon found herself living out of her car while pregnant. A member of the Air Force Reserves, Dixon was not eligible for housing due to various policies. She was working for an airline, but making just $10 an hour. Not enough to make ends meet.

“I had no idea how I was going to make it until I met Jaspen,” Dixon said “She took me in and she gave me hope. For that, I’m eternally grateful.”

Dixon and her son, Evan, spent two years with Final Salute, which allowed her the opportunity to rebuild her financial independence in a “safe and secure environment,” she said.

“I would not be where I am today without God’s grace and Jaspen Boothe,” she said.

Dixon recently moved back to Oklahoma, where in 1998 she was crowned Miss Oklahoma. She competed in the 47th annual Miss USA pageant. She has a new job, which she says she “loves.”

“It’s been a positive move, and I’m hoping to use my VA benefits to buy a home this year.”

Boothe said Final Salute takes a three-pronged approach to addressing homeless issues concerning female vets: awareness, assistance and aspiration.

“We want to do everything we can to support these women before they reach homeless status,” Boothe said. “A lot of organizations out there won’t give you help until you are literally out on the street.”

Boothe said so many programs in place do not house children, which is why Final Salute is even more important.

According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “More than 60 percent of surveyed grant per diem programs that serve homeless women veterans did not house children, and most programs that did house children had restrictions on the ages or number of children.”

Further, a VA inspector general report examining veteran housing facilities that receive VA grants found more bad news. It cited “bedrooms and bathrooms without locks, poorly lit hallways and women housed in facilities approved for men only. Nearly a third of the 26 facilities reviewed didn’t have adequate safety precautions.”

In one instance, a woman and her 18-month-old son were placed in the same facility as a male veteran who was a registered sex offender.

“It’s our goal here to keep families together,” Boothe said. “We were already separated while we served our country. This shouldn’t be happening on American soil.”

For more information on Final Salute Inc., visit www.final saluteinc.org.

“IT’S OUR GOAL HERE TO KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER. WE WERE ALREADY SEPARATED WHILE WE SERVED OUR COUNTRY. THIS SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING ON AMERICAN SOIL.”

JASPEN BOOTHE

Read the full article at http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/article/Homeless+Women+Vets/2694377/379001/article.html.

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