Our history is chock full of women who have made battlefield contributions, from the American Revolution’s Molly Pitcher to the Civil War women soldiers disguised as men, to 20th century pioneers at West Point and the Naval, Air Force, and Coast Guard Academies. Today most traditional barriers to military service for women have been eliminated, including combat roles. As a result, one of the fastest growing groups in the veteran’s community is women.
When military demographics change, veterans’ needs change, too. Unfortunately, many women veterans face profound difficulties when they reintegrate into civilian life. According to the Veterans Administration, women are also the fastest growing group of homeless veterans.
Dana Spain, president of Spain Property Group, has advocated for veterans for years, through her involvement with the USO and the Hug-A-Hero campaign. When the Veterans Comfort Home, a service provider in West Philadelphia, was in danger of closing down in 2016 due to years of neglect, she rallied other local leaders and developed a plan of action to reorganize and refocus the nonprofit to meet shifting needs in the veteran’s community.
Spain recognized the need to support women, who have fewer service options than other veterans, more specifically with targeted housing, therapy, and a wide variety of support. Her involvement led to a complete renovation of this turn-of-the-century facility and reimagination of the organization’s mission.
For 18 months, the Veterans Comfort Home continued to provide daily service and holiday dinners while Spain galvanized board members and volunteers into action. The roof was replaced, porches refurbished, and kitchen and bathrooms redone. Finally, In April 2019, a reinvigorated board opened rebranded Haven Women to deliver transitional housing to the Philadelphia women’s veterans community. Their first goal, to provide safe housing to women vets who need a home, has been accomplished: Haven currently has space for 12 residents.
A bed in this transitional home is the beginning of what Petra Lewis Glenn, Haven’s executive director, describes as the veterans’ journey to stability. Haven (Helping Achieve Veteran Empowerment Now) Women seeks to fill the gap in services for those who served. Their constituents, brave women who represent every branch of military service, often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are more susceptible to drug abuse and suicide.
In addition to the trauma often associated with military service, some of these women have experienced the added trauma of sexual harassment or abuse. Haven Women need treatment, but often access to it is difficult through standard channels at the VA. Haven partners closely with the Veterans Administration to achieve better results than ever before. Their cooperation and coordination makes the difference. The goal is to create a path to a full civilian life. Each woman may require a wide variety of medical and personal services.
Additional support is available through a partnership with Impact Services, a longstanding resource in the veteran’s community. Their caseworkers work with Haven Women personnel to establish goals and plans for residents tailored to specific circumstances. No time line is attached. Treatment is available for as long as treatment is needed. The basic philosophy of Haven is to provide services on a holistic basis. They recognize that healing is not just a medical process. Some women benefit from the nature of a group home, some become better through yoga and meditation programs, and some women heal through specific psychotherapeutic techniques. Others need better nutrition and self-care. Drug treatment and counseling are a vital part of the services Haven provides.
A major part of Haven’s mission includes advocacy to obtain more benefits for women veterans. This includes providing respite to women who are receiving treatment at the local VA: some patients, or wives of patients, live hundreds of miles from Philadelphia and have no local support systems. Long term plans also include permanent affordable housing for families: veterans can suffer additional trauma when they are unable to care for their loved ones, and children suffer tremendously when their parents are absent.
To learn more and find out how you can help support Haven Women visit https://havenwomen.org/