FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA —
Ozora Cassanova could never have imagined becoming homeless a year ago.
“I was a full-time student," she says. "I had a part-time job. I had my military job and I was a wife.”
Life changed for the National Guard member when she lost her job, got divorced, ran out of money and faced eviction. Luckily, she heard about Final Salute’s transitional home for female veterans.
After moving into the large, 6-bedroom house on a shady street in the suburbs of Washington, DC, six months ago, Cassanova found more than a shelter.
“You get assistance with your resume," she says. "You could get like a life coach or a mentor. You get a regular financial assistance like household supply, food supply and stuff like that.”
That stability allows her to focus on achieving her goals: finding a job, going back to school and being on her own. Living with other women who have also gone through similar situations, she says, makes her feel she is not alone.
“Some evenings, if they come home early, if they're not tired, we would cook together. We would just talk," she says. "They give you from their experience. They help you make a wiser decision as well. They would say, ‘I did that, I went through that.' So we learn from each other.”
Veterans can stay at the house for up to two years. Final Salute’s founder, Army Captain Jas Boothe, works with each of them to develop an action plan for learning new skills and successfully moving on.
That’s what resident Ashley Dyer, who dreams of becoming a writer and filmmaker, finds inspirational and motivating.
"She cares about me in a way that you would want your mom or your dad to. I don’t have that family support," Dyer says. "So she’s here expecting me to succeed, not because it's a requirement, but because she knows that I can, she believes that I can. So if I’m not trying to accomplish things, if I’m not trying to reach for my goals, then she lets me know.”
For a time, Boothe was one of the 13,000 homeless female veterans in America. That experience led her to start Final Salute, dedicated to female veterans’ special needs.
“Not all veterans need rehabilitation. Not all of them need strict restructuring programs," Boothe says. "Some of them just need a place to stay, but most programs are not built for those that just need to get over a hump.”
Over the last two years, the house she purchased for the program has been home to nine women and five children.
Boothe wanted it to feel like home.
"When I was looking for a property, I first thought of where would I like me and my children to live?" she says. "I would love for my children to live in a single family home in a beautiful neighborhood where they can go out and play on the grass and be safe, and their moms can have that weight lifted, knowing that they are in a safe environment .They don’t worry about food and clothing where they can truly focus on themselves and how they need to progress.”
Final Salute’s second transitional home is expected to open soon, so more homeless female veterans can catch their breath and get back on their feet.