For homeless female veterans in Northeast Ohio, it truly takes a village. Specifically, the Sara J. Harper Village.
On a recent sunlit summer afternoon, a groundbreaking ceremony in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood marked the place where new affordable housing for traumatized female veterans is slated to be completed in Spring 2022.
The complex at Lee Ave. and E. 105th St. will accommodate everyone from individuals to women with up to two children. Rent will be subsidized and all will have ready access to parking, laundry, multipurpose space, and transportation to the nearby Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.
“The Sara J. Harper Village is a symbol of hope,” said John von Arx III, president of Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana, a sponsor of the event attended by Harper’s family as well as local officials, community members, and various funding partners.
Hope, it turns out, is just what many female veterans need most. One of ten homeless Americans is a veteran, and the number of women in that group is rapidly rising.
What’s more, many female veterans are also recovering from sexual trauma. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that one in three uniformed women experience such trauma in some form.
This leaves many female veterans unable to fend for themselves or their families. All too often, said Becky Carlino, director of development at VOA, female veterans end up homeless or housing insecure, all the while suffering from poor mental health, unemployment, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
To address these issues, Harper Village will do more than simply house veterans in one of 12 units measuring up to 3,000 square feet. Kathleen Atkins, vice president of program operations at VOA, said the complex also will offer on-site employment assistance, case management help, and other direct services.
“Neighbors are very excited about this coming addition,” said Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell. “The Village will be very helpful to the women who will be able to access additional services at the nearby VA Hospital.”
The complex itself was named after Sara J. Harper, a now 95-year-old former judge who grew up in public housing at Cleveland’s Outhwaite Homes and went on to serve on the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve judiciary.
Married 64 years to the late judge George Trumbo, Harper also worked as a City of Cleveland prosecutor, served six terms on the Cleveland Municipal Court, and presided over the Cleveland branch of the NAACP. At Outhwaite Homes, both a street and library bear her name.
The Sara J. Harper complex doesn’t stand on its own. It itself is part of a larger village.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Arx beamed with optimism as he pointed to nearby housing and commercial developments, the VA, and the Fisher House, a temporary residence for families of veterans undergoing medical care. Together, he said, these buildings constitute a sort of campus for veterans in Cleveland.
“We see this project as a catalyst for the entire neighborhood,” he said.
Ronald Kisner is a retired administrator from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He is the former West Coast Bureau Chief of Jet/Ebony magazines and CEO/Creative Director of TDA Group, Inc., a local public relations/advertising firm. His freelance writing has appeared in GQ, Cleveland Magazine, and the SHAD Connection.
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