Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, as a way of life

Avon offers help to homeless female veterans

The Women\'s Army Corps was assimilated into the regular Army in 1978, says Marjorie Martin, a former Army medic. While the mainstreaming opened doors for women, it should be no surprise that as women get closer to combat for longer periods of time that they have the same battle scars as their male counterparts.

The Zion Episcopal Church of Avon and the American Legion Post 294 have teamed up to open Zion House, a home for homeless or soon-to-be-homeless female veterans. The house is the former church rectory and sits behind the church, which is on the traffic circle on Routes 5 and 20. It will be the first transitional housing for female veterans in New York, and perhaps the first of its kind in the country, says the Rev. Mark Stiegler, rector of Zion Episcopal.

Stiegler, a former part-time chaplain for the Veterans Affairs Department, says the idea for Zion House came to him during a program he was part of several years ago. 'There was a woman who was about to be homeless (after she left the V.A. residential program) and she said she wished they had a program for women like they do for men.'

He began talking up the idea around Avon, and last fall Zion House was awarded a $96,000 V.A. grant. The Zion House board (with representatives from the church, the legion post and the community) raised another $50,000 in cash and in-kind services. The house, dedicated this week, expects to accept its first group of six residents in June.

The mission is to help women transition to employment and permanent shelter. The need is clear. The V.A. says the population of homeless female veterans is largely under the age of 45, but only about 10 percent are Iraq or Afghanistan War veterans. More than 20 percent have been homeless a year or more and 85 percent have been treated for substance abuse; 38 percent have experienced post traumatic stress. One-third have experienced physical harassment of a sexual nature in the military; 24 percent have been raped.

With so many women having spent extended time in or near combat zones, Stiegler says, the need for this type of service is likely to increase in time.

Zion House will offer training in life skills (including cooking, gardening, personal finance), job mentoring, assistance in finding affordable housing and support for pursuing advanced education. Most women should be able to transition out of Zion House in six months to a year.

The house will have six bedrooms — private space for each resident. 'It\'s important to have some control over your life and space,' Martin says. The house will have a part-time director, but the women will mange the house and learn to balance household duties with employment.

Zion House has become a community project in Avon. 'Father Mark visited all the neighbors to make sure they understood exactly what we\'d be doing,' says Martin. The board is still collecting some items of furniture, housewares and cash for operations (to inquire about donations, contact Sandy Walker at (585) 226-2748.

A quilting group made bedspreads for each bed; school children in Honeoye Falls-Lima made small blankets for each vet. Another donor contributed a used, but well-maintained, handicapped accessible van.

It\'s a generous outpouring for a population that has been both invisible and forgotten.