According to the latest US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) there are over 4,300 self-reporting homeless women veterans. They make up just over nine percent of the entire homeless veteran population. Only 4.5 percent of veterans placed in Grant and Per Diem programs (GPD), one of the VA homelessness services, are women. While this is only one of the programs available, it highlights the fact that many of these programs simply are not set up to serve the structural or physical limitations necessary to handle homeless women and their children. (Read more on statistics and services for homeless veterans.) While it comes as no surprise that the majority of efforts would be focused on helping the 91 percent, there remains a hole in services that needs to be addressed.
What is the H.O.P.E. Institute?
While one person–or even one organization–cannot set out to eliminate these numbers on her own, she can make an impact in her own community. Retired Lt. Col. Hope Jackson has taken on the calling to provide shelter and a helping hand to female veterans in El Paso, TX through H.O.P.E Institute. There are approximately 5,500 female veterans in El Paso. These women have served their country and for some, they have come home and fallen on difficult times. Before H.O.P.E., there were very few options to help them back on their feet. El Paso lacks resources for homeless female veterans and the H.O.P.E. Institute is working hard to fill the gap.
The H.O.P.E. Institute is one of the most innovative housing models in the country. Standing for Healing, Optimizing, Perfecting and Empowering, H.O.P.E encompasses the mission of this non-profit. Success is in the hands of the women who become residents; they are given the tools and support needed but ultimately it is up to them to make necessary changes. A majority of the volunteers at H.O.P.E. are active duty service members and veterans, serving and caring for their sisters.
H.O.P.E. provides the basic needs for the resident. This includes housing, food, clothing, and transportation in a safe and healthy environment. Residents are 100 percent accountable for their choices and behavior. Staff works to provide guidance and directions; however, the resident is the ultimate decision maker for their pathway forward. The goal is independent living. This is achieved through life skills training, assistance in attaining employment that offers a living wage, developing an action plan for achievement of goals, and assistance in the transition to independent and sustainable living. Located in a residential area, as opposed to downtown, it allows the residents to be a part of a community where neighbors go to work everyday and send their kids to school.
How did it begin?
Jackson, Founder/CEO of H.O.P.E., will tell you her calling came from God. While serving in Kosovo, she heard God tell her he had plans for her to take care of his children. After retiring from a long military career where she served in the Kosovo conflict, Gulf War, and Iraq War, Ms. Jackson retired in 2010. A year later, she purchased the first home: The Rutherford House of Peace. The home was renovated and made handicapped accessible, and the garage turned into an office. In 2012, she was granted nonprofit status though the home would take four years before it was finally ready to open in 2017.
A second home has been purchased just two miles away and is awaiting renovation. It will be used to house female veterans and their school-aged children.
Jackson works as a real estate agent and uses the profits to help cover H.O.P.E. which costs around $90,000 a year to operate. The majority of that cost is covered from her own pocket.
How does the community help?
On February 17, 2018, Home Depot along with regular volunteers from H.O.P.E. Institute, spent the day improving the landscape. The ground was tilled and gravel laid. Children came out to help build flower beds and fill them with flowers. A vegetable garden was prepped along the side of the house along with what will become a workout area. Volunteers organized the food and clothing pantry, which is called VetMart and open to those in need. Pavers were put in along the back where firepits, grills, and tables will soon be installed.
Home Depot brought out more than 25 volunteers and all of the landscaping material for this project. In addition, the week leading up to the event they installed a driveway and a new shed. The work has not yet been completed as there are still plans to paint, gravel to be laid, and backyard pavers and fire pits to be installed.
If you are in the El Paso area and interested in helping on the next work day,or even finding out how you can be of assistance in the day-to-day work of H.O.P.E. Institute, call (888)993-9615 or email [email protected].
H.O.P.E Institute needs the donations and support of the community to continue providing and increasing their services to female veterans who simply need a second chance. To read more about the passion that drives the veteran behind this project visit NYTimes.com.
By Hope Griffin