BALLSTON – Members of the locally based Veterans & Community Housing Coalition (VCHC) will stand in front of the town of Ballston Planning Board on Wednesday Oct. 26 in the hope of securing the go-ahead to develop transitional housing for Veteran moms and their children.
If approved, it will be the first facility of its kind in New York, according to VCHC. It is an idea born out of a conversation in a West Ave. eatery three years ago when Veterans Ball Honorary Chair Ray O'Conor, Tiffany Orner – a veteran of the Air Force, and Cheryl Hage-Perez - who had served as executive director of VCHC, shared a conversation during breakfast at Shirley’s Restaurant.
“We were talking about women who come out of military service who have children. If they’re struggling in any way making the transition from military to civilian life, they have few options,” O’Conor recalled.
Moms are still a rarity in the military. Women make up 16 percent of enlisted forces and 19 percent of the officer corps, and a minority of those women have children under 18, according to a November 2020 article “The ‘Gut Wrenching’ Sacrifice of Military Moms,” written by Jessica Grose and published in the New York Times.
“Option one is to get a voucher from the VA and go off and find an apartment someplace and fend for themselves and their children - and they don’t necessarily have access to services they may need if they’re suffering from anything from PTSD, to sexual trauma in the military, or if they’re just trying to find a job,” O’Conor said. “Or, if they want to go to a place like Guardian House (for female veterans) they could give their children up to a family member if there is one willing to do that or put their children in foster care to get the services they need.”
Tasked with providing housing and support services to all homeless military veterans, VCHC had opened the transitional housing program Vet House for homeless male veterans on Church Avenue in Ballston Spa. More recently, it opened Guardian House, located nearby on Saratoga Road, to serve homeless female veterans. VCHC points out that while homeless women veterans face the same issues as the male veterans, a large percentage are additionally living with the pain of military sexual trauma.
“As we sat there at breakfast, we said, ‘Gee, we ought to build a place where these veteran moms and their kids could live while they’re making their transition from military to civilian life. So, that was the start of it,” O’Conor said.
They began to explore options to develop housing atop the four acres of land where Guardian House is sited and VCHC initiated a grassroots fundraising campaign, partnering with businesses, individuals, community groups and leaders. That needed funding, estimated at about $700,000 is now nearly all in place. Plans call for the construction of a duplex that will serve as transitional housing for veteran moms and their children. It will be called Foreverly House – named after the song “Foreverly,” written by local singer-songwriter Jeff Brisbin.
“That was Cheryl (Hage-Perez’) idea,” says O’Conor. “I knew who Jeff Brisbin was from his performing in different venues in this area but never formally met him.” O’Conor was working on a screen adaptation of his book “She Called Him Raymond,” published in 2015. A random meeting at a Broadway eatery introduced O’Conor and Brisbin to one another.
“I happened to be at Druthers in Saratoga Springs with my family. Jeff came over and said: Hey, are you Ray O’Conor – the guy who wrote that book ‘She Called Him Raymond’? Jeff introduced himself and said, I’ve written a song, the melody and lyrics fit your book hand-in-glove. Can I send it to you?” O’Conor said. “It’s beautiful song and he was absolutely right, the song and lyrics – a perfect fit.“ O’Conor went on to write his award-winning screenplay with the title: Foreverly The Movie – a screenplay adaptation of “She Called Him Raymond.”
Pending this week’s town approval, VCHC hopes to break ground in December – weather permitting – and to have a fully operational Foreverly House in 2023.