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Homeless Women Vets Find Comfort, Hope

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A woman works at a computer with another woman's help

Melinda Lindsay, a resident of the Veterans Domiciliary at Wade Park, in Cleveland, works on her resume with a little help from Domiciliary Chief Patricia James-Stewart.

by Tom Cramer, VA Staff Writer
Thursday, November 14, 2013

Melinda Lindsay was discharged from the Army in 1984 and then spent the next 25 years on drugs, alcohol and on the street.

“I went to the party and just stayed there,” she explained. “I was on alcohol and crack for a lot of years. I was using every day, all day.”

Things are a little different for Lindsay now. She’s taking some college courses and living at the Veterans Domiciliary at Wade Park, in Cleveland — a place where homeless Veterans can come to heal themselves and rebuild their lives.

Free at Last

“I’ll have four years clean next month,” Lindsay said proudly. “My mind is free now. I just need to stay focused. First and foremost, I need to stay clean and sober.”

The Wade Park Domiciliary is a unique partnership between the Cleveland VA Medical Center and Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio, a marriage that may be the first of its kind in the entire country. Operating since 2011, it serves as a classic example of VA’s continuing efforts to partner with local non-profits, businesses, and community service organizations to help the Nation’s homeless Veterans.

Putting the Pieces Together

Each Veteran arriving at the domiciliary is assigned two case managers — one from the VA, one from Volunteers of America.

“VA takes care of the clinical side of the house, while we handle the logistics of running the place,” explained Sonya Thompkins, the Volunteers of America program director at Wade Park. “We take care of the living arrangements, food service, laundry, safety and security and recreational services like art therapy.”

More importantly, Volunteers of America provides vital supportive services like helping Wade Park’s residents find safe, affordable, long-term housing once they leave the domiciliary.

 For many of these women, it’s a lack of self esteem that keeps them down. They don’t see their own potential. 
— Patricia James-Stewart, Veterans Domiciliary, Wade Park

“We try to make sure all the little pieces come together for them,” Thompkins said. “We’ll help them get furniture for their apartment, or get their utilities turned on. We’ll help them with anything they need to get their life together, like getting a state I.D., a Social Security card or a driver’s license.

“We’ll help them with enrolling in vocational training,” she continued, “or going back to school, or getting a job. We’ll help them put a resume together. We’ll help them with basic life skills like money management, or relationships — whatever it is they need.”

But none of that can happen until the Veteran is strong enough —psychologically and emotionally — to leave the safe, orderly world of the domiciliary and re-enter the real world. But accomplishing that, according to Patricia James-Stewart, usually means getting an addiction problem or mental health issue under control.

“A lot of the women who come here have issues centering around self-esteem,” Stewart observed. “Like Melinda Lindsay, they all have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. And, like Melinda, many of them are dealing with military sexual trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

“Their low self-esteem keeps them from accomplishing what they want to do,” she added. “There’s a lot of shame, a lot of insecurities. All these things get in their way…” Lindsay agreed. “I always felt like I was never worthy of anything good,” she said “But now I know I am.”

“Melinda went through the program several times before she made it,” Stewart said. “It’s been a long, hard road for her, but she kept coming back. She never gave up. That’s why there’s no limit on how many times you can come here. Because you never know when someone’s going to finally ‘get it.’”

“I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in life,” she said, “and now I want to help other women as much as I can. I feel like I have something to offer them. I think I can offer them hope. Because if I can make it, they can make it too.”

To learn more about VA’s effort to end Veteran homelessness, visit www.va.gov/homeless.