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CCBC Catonsville to host event for homeless female veterans

Amy Brace, 23, a 5-year veteran of the U.S. Army, is shown in the Veterans Services Center on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County where she works part-time while working on an associate's degree.
Amy Brace, 23, a 5-year veteran of the U.S. Army, is shown in the Veterans Services Center on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County where she works part-time while working on an associate's degree. (Lauren Loricchio)

When Amy Brace, 23, returned to her parents' Halethorpe home from Oklahoma after serving five years in the U.S. Army, she knew the transition would be a challenge.

"I liked the routine of the military. I liked the set schedule," said Brace, who now attends the Community College of Baltimore County where she studies forensic science and works part-time in the school's veterans center on the Catonsville campus.

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"A week goes by and you say, 'OK, I can sleep in.' and then you start to feel worthless — 'What am I supposed to do?' " Brace said, sitting in a conference room on the South Rolling Road campus.

She also has two children to care for. Her boyfriend, the father of her children, is deployed to Kuwait right now, which also complicates things for Brace.

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Fortunately, she had a place to live with her parents, when she left the military in April.

But for many veterans who leave the service, life is difficult without income, a place to live and a support system in place.

"If it wasn't for my parents, I would have [ended up homeless]," Brace said. "I didn't have a job, and it's hard finding one when you get out."

That is why the Catonsville campus will host an event specifically for homeless female veterans on Friday, Nov. 14, following Veteran's Day.

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The Stand Down event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., will offer program information and assistance for those in need. The keynote speaker will be Brig. Gen. Linda Singh, the first black and the first female to serve as commander of the Maryland Army National Guard.

The program is provided by the Baltimore County Delta Foundation, a nonprofit that "supports public service and community outreach in the areas of economic development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health and social service programs for women, children, families and the elderly in Baltimore County," according to its website.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, women face a different set of obstacles while transitioning to civilian life from men when they leave the service. Issues such as raising children on their own and handling the psychological effects of dealing with Military Sexual Trauma put them at a greater risk of becoming homeless.

A 2011 study titled "More than MST" found that between 20 and 40 percent of female veterans reported experiencing Military Sexual Trauma, defined by the VA as "sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the veteran was in the military."

Ninety percent of those who experience MST develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental illness, making them more likely to become homeless, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Ernestine Jones Jolivet, vice president of the foundation, said providing for female veterans became a priority for the organization when they heard First Lady Michelle Obama speak about the importance of helping female veterans transition to civilian life.

"We want to help these women in their transition to be as productive as they can be," Jolivet said. "We want them to know there are people who support and appreciate them."

CCBC has 1,000 service connected veterans on its Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex main campuses. Of that number, 166 are women, said Frank Murray, a VA certifying official with Veterans Services on the Catonsville campus.

"That is the most of any school across the state, besides University of Maryland University College, which offers a lot of online classes," Murray said.

Stand Down will connect homeless female veterans with resources such as on site health screenings and referrals, employment assistance, personal care services, mental health counseling, information about relationship abuse and financial advice. A continental breakfast, lunch, a snack and transportation will be provided, according to CCBC.

Participants will receive a personal hygiene kit and the opportunity to select professional clothing for job interviews.

"There are so many female veterans that don't know the resources available to them — there are plenty of programs and jobs that are open just to female vets that they don't know of," Brace said. "There are jobs where female veterans get preference and if they apply, their application goes to the top of the list."

Brace believes it is important to provide support for veterans struggling with the transition from military to civilian life.

"I think it will help them get back on track," she said.

To register for Stand Down, go to http://www.bcdeltafoundation.org/stand-down-registration/.

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