State legislators, VA staff should support plan to aid female veterans in region
A proposal to house homeless and down-on-their-luck female veterans in new transitional housing at the Oakhill Renaissance Place county office building in Youngstown rises as a win-win proposition.
It is a win, first and foremost, for the growing numbers of veterans in our region and state who find themselves displaced by poverty, divorce or other misfortunes.
It is a win, as well, for Mahoning County government’s ongoing struggle to make more efficient and productive use of the sprawling complex that once stood as South Side Medical Center. Currently, more than half of the 353,000-square-foot complex continues to remain unoccupied.
As such, we urge state legislators to look kindly to a proposal seeking $1.4 million from this year’s biennial capital budget to provide funding for renovating 17,600 square feet of Oakhill to accommodate the housing.
We also urge the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to approve a grant request to be filed by the Mahoning County Veterans Housing committee to help fund the costs of operating the center once renovations are complete.
As Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti aptly explained, “This is very important for our female vets. There’s nowhere for them to go.”
Susan Krawchyk, executive director of ther Mahoning Valley Veterans Service Commission, agrees: “There is a dire need for women veterans transitional housing. Especially in this quadrant of the state.”
PLIGHT OF FEMALE VETERANS
They’re not exaggerating. The plight of female military veterans in this country is very real.
According to reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, female veterans are much more likely to be homeless than male veterans.
What’s more, female military veterans are two to three times more likely to be homeless than any other group in the adult population of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Oakhill proposal would not only ease the crisis of homelessness for these women, but it also would provide them a framework for regaining their independence and livelihoods.
That’s because Oakhill Renasisance Place already is equipped as a convenient one-stop assistance center with many of the support services the veterans would need to aid in their recovery and re-entry into the work force.
Those services include the Mahoning Veterans Service Commission, the county Department of Job and Family Services and the Women, Infants, and Children office and clinic.
As Rimedio-Righetti pointed out, “Everything we need to make this work is here.”
The transitional housing facility also would work well toward achieving Mahoning County’s long-term goal of putting the South Side office structure to more optimal use.
Ever since the structure was purchased by Mahoning County 12 years ago, Oakhill has been mired in controvery. Part of that controversy has focused on the inability of county officials to find appropriate tenants to fill its cavernous space to make its overall operations more financially efficient. The transitional housing facility would bring the county a bit closer to that goal.
It’s hardly surprising then that many county groups, veterans agencies and others are enthusiastically endorsing the funding proposals.
Some of those groups that have written letters of support for the proposal include the Family & Community Services Inc., Mahoning County Homeless Continuum of Care, Alta Behavioral Healthcare, Workforce Development Board Inc. of Mahoning and Columbiana Counties and several local veterans organizations.
Jim Fortunato, who heads the county’s purchasing department and is himself a veteran, sums up succinctly why lawmakers in Columbus and VA administrators in Washington should look favorably upon the funding requests.
“This is a great way to thank homeless vets for their service.”