The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. When people imagine homeless veterans, their mental image is likely of male veterans. However, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates roughly 9% of homeless veterans are women, and that number continues to grow as the number of women reintegrating into the community after military service continues to increase. In fact, female veterans are the fastest growing demographic in America’s homeless community.
These bleak statistics come as no surprise to Sheila Locatelli, CEO and founder of Women of Hope, a local non-profit dedicated to providing housing and supportive service to women veterans.
Locatelli has seen first-hand the devastating effects such factors as PTSD and anxiety problems, addiction, unemployment and disability can have on women veterans. Locatelli established Women of Hope in 2007 after recognizing a tremendous need for transitional housing and supportive services for women veterans in her volunteer work with her church. She developed and began running an eight-week workshop entitled “Strengthening the Inner Me” for women residing at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Domiciliary. “I felt a real calling to help these women deal with issues of self-esteem, forgiveness/unforgiveness, and healthy and unhealthy relationships – all challenges that increase susceptibility to homelessness,” says Locatelli.
In 2016, Women of Hope teamed up with the Cuyahoga Land Bank and a host of volunteers and donors to transform a vacant and abandoned property in Garfield Heights into transitional housing for up to six homeless women veterans. Residents, who can live in the home for up to two years, receive counseling, mentoring, job search and education support services and life-skills training.
Now, Locatelli is looking to the Cuyahoga Land Bank once again as she works to create a new transitional housing opportunity; this time for a family. “Transitional housing is a means to equip and empower these women towards healthy lifestyles and self-sufficiency,” says Locatelli.
With a diverse board of directors committed to the organization’s mission, Women of Hope continues to impact the growing population of homeless women veterans.
“Since the beginning, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has helped Women of Hope in its mission,” says Vatreisha Nyemba, Compliance and Monitoring Manager at the Cuyahoga Land Bank. “Sheila is all in; I continue to be impressed at how she has transformed the organization. It has truly become a real asset to women veterans in Cuyahoga County.”