SMYRNA — There is very little support in Delaware — as well as most other states — for female veterans and their families once they leave their military careers behind.
Pastor Tyshee Jackson and her husband, Bishop Jared Jackson of Eden International church, are hoping to change that.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the couple hosted the grand opening of the Eden Veterans Refuge at 53 W. Commerce St. in Smyrna. Next week, they hope to be housing their first guest out of three veterans they’ve interviewed, with others to follow soon after.
“We’re really excited that it’s finally coming together, especially with COVID and different things that put us into a slowed-down timeframe of getting our construction done,” said Mrs. Jackson, who serves as the executive director of the two-story facility. “Of course, everybody was anticipating when to come out and being safe in that process, but we’re excited that it’s finally here.
“We’ve been able to start one of our components with Eden Veterans Refuge, which is our Clothing Garden. It’s now open Tuesday through Thursday. The Clothing Garden is free for any of the ladies in our residence and any referrals from any outside agencies, which could be somebody had a fire, they don’t have any clothing, they have to have a referral and they could come in for free.
“It’s also open to the community, everything is $5 and under, and their cost goes towards the house for the ladies and our personal products and things like that.”
Eden Veterans Refuge currently has two rooms ready for occupancy and is not far from opening another four rooms. They are available for female veterans and female veterans with children. There are no limit guidelines as to how long they can stay.
Mrs. Jackson noted that in its 2017 annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that more than 40,000 veterans were homeless on a single night in January of that year. Of those, 9% were women.
From 2016 to 2017, the number of homeless female veterans increased by 7%, compared to 1% for their male counterparts.
A recent study by the Wounded Warrior Project revealed that female veterans face additional life challenges to men in transitioning to civilian life, accessing care and receiving quality care for their needs.
The study also discovered that women are more likely to feel isolated in the veteran community, which can create mental health challenges such as anxiety.
“We have a lot of different avenues for our men veterans, but we don’t see many for our women,” said Mrs. Jackson. “So, we wanted to be sure that we were helping, especially with the economy that we’re in. We already know that we have things stacked against women veterans, because they are women, they have children, so they have different odds when they come out already. We wanted to alleviate some of those factors.
“We want to also help those women whose husbands (have) passed away in the military. That is something that we also help.”
So, the Eden Veterans Refuge is going to be much more than just a place for women veterans to sleep. The refuge’s five or six volunteers will share their expertise in childhood nutrition, psychological therapy and the activities of daily living.
“We don’t want it to be a reoccurring door but that they’re able to get those primary things, like knowing about life insurance, budgeting, understanding bill payments and understanding how to buy a house or how to manage and things like that,” Mrs. Jackson said.
Bishop Jackson said the diversity of the programs that are designed to get people back on their feet has been backed by several local partners, including Smyrna Town Council, Eden International, the Delaware Veterans Association and the Dover Women’s Support Network.
Once they get their first house guest, there will be 24/7 security provided at the refuge.
“There will be a person on site,” Mr. Jackson said. “We also have a relationship or building relationship with the ambulance department in Smyrna and the fire department, just to keep an eye out and help with those everyday things.
Mrs. Jackson pointed out that most of the classes that take place at Eden Veterans Refuge are also available to all of the members of the Smyrna community, as well.
“We still do job training, we do job placement, we help with resumes, we help with budgeting,” she said. “All of those components are not just for the ladies, those components are for the community, as well.
“There’s also a job board here in the lobby where if the ladies were to come in, or anybody in the community come in, there will be job postings that may be sent to us or online that they could come in and get to apply for jobs as well.”
Michael McConnell, a board member at the refuge who assists with much of the construction, believes it’s a great thing that is taking place in downtown Smyrna.
“I think it’s just a wonderful commitment by the people involved here,” Mr. McConnell said. “Not only for the community here in Smyrna, but it also reaches our veterans and what we hope to accomplish by giving them a place that they can call home.
“Unfortunately, the path that certain people take leads them into a situation of need, and I think to a point, women are usually overlooked. As a veteran myself, I just feel committed to giving something back. There are people in need, women in need, and they have children, and we want to give them a safe environment – one that doesn’t compete for their resources. This will help them to get back on their feet.”
For Mrs. Jackson, giving back to her community is just something that comes naturally.
“It’s so exciting. We’ve gotten such a good feedback from the community,” she said. “Smyrna has always been a place where we help each other. We love each other. You know exactly where you can come to get the help that you need, so it’s a blessing to be able to bring that back to the community and to be able to help those that are in need.”