The Sussex County Board of Adjustment held a public hearing on Monday, March 4 regarding a special use exception from the Home of the Brave Foundation for a proposed women’s shelter on Griffith Lake Road in Milford. The home, which was partially purchased with a grant from the Longwood Foundation, is currently located in a residential neighborhood.
Linda Boone, Chairperson of the Home of the Brave Board of Directors, provided statistics to the Board of Adjustments regarding the need for a women’s shelter for homeless veterans, stating that women make up approximately five percent of homeless veterans in the United States, and that there are very few facilities available that offer housing for female veterans.
“Home of the Brave is not a shelter, it is transitional living,” Boone explained. “In shelters, residents are not given any sort of guidance. Home of the Brave provides case management that help veterans achieve education, gainful employment and eventually move into permanent housing.” Boone also attempted to dispel what she called “myths” about the homeless population at Home of the Brave, stating that 12 of the 15 were Delawareans and that residents are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Boone stated that the average age of the male veterans in residence at the Sharp’s Road location is between the ages of 51 to 61, and she expects the ages of the women in the home to be roughly the same. Although some media reports indicated that the foundation would house 14 women and their children in the home, the maximum number of female veterans in the home would be six. When asked why Home of the Brave did not simply build an additional home on the five acres they already owned on Sharps Road, Boone indicated that many of the female veterans have suffered military sexual trauma, so housing them in close proximity to males is not advisable.
Mike Rowe, Program Director for People’s Place Veteran’s Outreach Program also spoke out in support of the application.
“I have worked closely with the Home of the Brave, and for 20 years this foundation has allowed many veterans to get a sense of pride and dignity back,” Rowe testified. “Veterans have left that home with hope for a better future, and this shelter would offer the same hope to female veterans and their children. We must end the stereotype of the homeless veteran. Nearly 50 percent of female veterans have been the victim of military sexual trauma, come home from serving the country and are faced with divorce or other economic issues that cause them, and their children, to become homeless.”
Tim Willard, an attorney representing those that own neighboring property to the proposed shelter, explained why the Board of Adjustment should deny the request from Home of the Brave.
“Those I represent want to make it clear that they wholeheartedly respect veterans and their service to this country,” Willard stated. “In fact, many of them are veterans themselves and some have even donated money or supplies to the Home of the Brave. However, they do not believe that this home is the proper place to put a women’s shelter.”
Willard stated that the myths described by Boone have no bearing on what the Board of Adjustments must look at when deciding to approve or deny this application. The fact is that Home of the Brave has applied for special use under a county code that would classify the home as a convalescent home. In order to qualify, the board of adjustments has stated previously that a convalescent home must have permanent or full-time nursing care, and Home of the Brave has already stated that residents receive outpatient medical care.
“This is a rural setting with a significant response time for fire and police in the event of an emergency. This is especially troubling when you are dealing with a group of people who may have mental or psychological issues,” Willard explained. He went on to offer as evidence an article, published in The Milford Review, in which Boone described the residents of the Sharps Road facility as “dysfunctional” and stated that “many of them prefer to be homeless than follow the rules.”
Amanda Gaglione who lives in the home adjacent to the Home of the Brave property, expressed concerns about increased traffic and the number of strangers who would be in and out of the property, even if they are volunteers. She also was concerned about her three sons, especially if the women had suffered military sexual trauma.
“If they cannot live within five acres of men, why is it okay for them to live within 500 feet of my sons, who are teenagers,” Gaglione asked. Boone was unable to explain how many children could possibly be housed in the home, and this concerned residents as well.
Board member Brent Workman asked Boone what the procedure was when a resident was discharged from the facility. Boone stated that they try to place them in another location. When Workman asked if a resident was ever just put out on the street, Boone admitted that, although it was rare, it did happen.
Workman also asked if Home of the Brave was aware that they needed this special use exception before they purchased the home, and Boone admitted that they did. When Workman asked why they didn’t get the approval first, Boone stated that it was a Home of the Brave Board of Directors decision and that “they just didn’t expect the request to be rejected.” After hearing discussion from both sides, the Sussex County Board of Adjustment voted to table their decision until the March 18, 2013 meeting.