The lotus flower, a bloom that springs from the mud, is just the right symbol for the women in The Lotus Project for Female Veterans, a program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston that helps homeless female veterans rebuild their lives. The Lotus Project was established in late 2012, with funding from HUD
and administered in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veteran
Affairs (VA).It’s one of the VA’s new flagship programs to serve chronically home less and disabled female veterans, who are often not well served by general programs for homeless vets.
“Women vets are often turned away from other programs because they have children. Case managers don’t have places to put them,” said Olivia Bush, director of The Lotus Project. “Further, if women had a bad experience in the military, specifically with sexual harassment or assault, they may not be comfortable in programs with male vets.
The women the program serves are often in desperate conditions. Dealing with physical injuries or abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or substance abuse, they are crowding in with family or staying in abusive relationships to keep a roof over their heads. They are living in their cars, in shelters, and in any place they can find. One woman and her three children were hiding in a church office at night. The Lotus Project first stabilizes women and their children by housing them in appropriately-sized apartments in good neighborhoods with good schools, with all housing and food expenses covered for the first year. Then, through counseling, life skills education, support group therapy, and substance abuse treatment, the program helps them get to a point where they can find and keep employment or attend school.
Yolanda is one of the women in The Lotus Project. Her three-year service in the military left her with emotional scars that still affect her today. She was a victim of abuse by an officer, which escalated from verbal to physical, and finally sexual. When she reported what had occurred, she was referred to the Army Psychology Ward and later honorably discharged. Though she received benefits from the VA, she turned to drugs, alcohol, and fraud to bury the trauma and handle the stresses of caring for her two sons. After a third time in prison and a newfound relationship with God, Yolanda dedicated herself to a new life, but she needed help to get there. When she learned that The Lotus Project would help her get an apartment under her own name, she cried. Since then, she has moved in and is now focusing on her education and her family.
The Lotus Project is helping female veterans like Yolanda spring from the mud of their pasts and blossom in a new life. The peace of mind that the program offers allows that to happen.