AUGUSTA — The four residents of the transitional housing facility for homeless and in-need women veterans say they were shocked last Thursday night when told they had to be out by Tuesday.

The women who live at the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope, an Augusta residential facility run by a nonprofit formed to help women veterans find stable housing, said they were given the news by the organization’s board president.

As of Monday, none had been able to find a new place to live and all feared being left homeless.

Board member John Crowley said the women are not being evicted, but have been asked to temporarily move out. He said Monday the facility’s doors will remain open to them for as long as it takes them to find new housing.

The four women said that was not what they heard last week from Anita Weeks, president of the board of directors. According to the veterans, Weeks came in after all other house staff had left for the day and told the tenants they needed to be out by Tuesday.

Angela Husband, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Persian Gulf, said most of the residents have injuries or mental health problems connected to their military service and have not been able to find other places to go. She said it was already difficult finding housing during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, it is even harder with two business days’ notice coupled with service-related health problems.

Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope residents were told last week they must move out of the Augusta transitional housing for female veterans. They are, from left: Valerie Hatch, Army; Katrina Zuckerman, Seabees; Angela Husband, Marine Corps; and Rebecca Danley, Navy. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Husband said residents were first told they had to move out because the organization “was trying to get ahead of the coronavirus,” but she believes the organization wanted to close the house to reorganize.

“I think it’s illegal what they’re doing, putting people with secondary medical conditions into harm’s way,” she said. “We’ve very concerned. We’ve very scared.”

Rebecca Danley, a former Navy nurse who served from 1974 to 1978, said she was placed in the House of Hope by a social service after she suffered elder abuse. She said she does not know what she is going to do if she cannot stay there.

“I’m homeless and I don’t have money to pay for anything,” Danley said. “I have moderate Alzheimer’s (and) PTSD. I have disabilities and I just can’t be put out on the street on a whim.”

“They told us we had to get out, and they only gave us Friday and Monday to try to find places to go,” said Katrina Zuckerman, who was a Seabee in the Navy from 2008 to 2016. “I came up here because I became homeless in Portland, and there is no other place for female vets. The only refuge is this house, which is supposed to be a safe haven.”

Valerie Hatch, who served as a munitions specialist in the Army in 1981, said she has been living at House of Hope for almost a year, and was shocked to be told she had to leave suddenly. Although she was told the organization would pay for a hotel room, Hatch said she wants to stay where she is and is prepared to fight to do so. If she has to leave, she said she hopes it is not until after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and things are closer to normal.

Crowley said the four veterans will be allowed to stay as long as they are making efforts to find other places to live. But, he said, they were told they need to leave because the organization is reorganizing and seeks to move residents who are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 out of the congregate-living situation at the home.

“Nobody was evicted,” Crowley said. “We did give them a timeline of Tuesday, but we’re not going to close the doors until everybody has safe housing.”

Residents of the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope play Monday with therapy dogs at the Augusta transitional housing for female veterans. The group has been told to find other housing. The four are, from left: Rebecca Danley, Navy; Valerie Hatch, Army; Katrina Zuckerman, Seabees; and Angela Husband, Marine Corps.

Husband reached out to Pine Tree Legal, which provides free legal assistance to low-income Mainers.

Katy Childs, a Pine Tree lawyer, said she spoke with Husband and with House of Hope’s lawyer, and said she is prepared to file a temporary restraining order, or TRO, on Tuesday if the women are told they must leave.

“Our concern is what is going to happen Tuesday,” Childs said. “We are prepared to file a TRO, if we have to, to stop an illegal eviction. If no legal action is needed, that’d be wonderful if we can resolve that and no one ends up homeless or forced out of their residence.”

Childs said the seemingly vague message to tenants about why they had to leave was concerning.

Crowley said now is a good time for the tenants to find other housing because there is more housing assistance available due to the pandemic.

Childs disputed that, saying it is difficult for people to find affordable housing now because social-distancing requirements make it tough for tenants to meet with landlords.

The women said the organization’s only form of helping them find new places to live was giving them the telephone number to Preble Street, a Portland-based organization that helps feed and house Mainers in need. But Preble Street, Husband said, offered to pay for a hotel room for a week for residents who qualified — not a longer-term place to live.

She said they were also given a telephone number for the charitable organization Easter Seals, but that they do not have time to complete application process for help with housing.

According to Jen Tibbals, Preble Street’s communications coordinator, the women received more help than Husband indicated. She said Preble Street screened the four women for “eligibility for enrollment into our Veteran Housing Services (VHS) program.”

“Veterans that were not eligible were referred to other programs in the state, and we enrolled the veterans that were eligible into the VHS program,” Tibbals said. “We provided Emergency Housing Assistance and put the veterans into hotel rooms where they can stay until the COVID-19 crisis is over, but the goal is to find permanent housing for all of them.

“These veterans will also receive case management services that will assist them in finding permanent housing and addressing other needs that relate to housing stability,” she added. “The hotel rooms are paid for one week at a time in case the veterans are connected to permanent housing in the meantime.”

Crowley also said each tenant had someone helping with her search, including caseworkers from other organizations. He said House of Hope officials had also contacted Veterans Affairs officials at Togus, and that tenants would continue to receive help until they find new housing.

Crowley said the organization wants to empty the house — temporarily — for a combination of reasons.

Organization officials want tenants with a higher risk of health problems — if exposed to the coronavirus — to be moved out of the congregate-living situation at the home and into motels, as other homeless shelters have done.

Crowley also said House of Hope was undergoing a reorganization brought on by the departure of its executive director, founder Martha St. Pierre, eight weeks ago. He said the nonprofit needed to establish policies and procedures to ensure it functions properly.

“We’ve recently had some staffing changes and we’ve for the most part stopped taking in residents because of COVID-19,” Crowley said Monday, after returning a message left for Weeks. “It’s a combination of getting the higher-risk folks someplace safer and transitioning residents into safe housing, so we could stop having clients here for a few weeks to get our policies and procedures together.

“We’re not closing for good. It was to clean up the house, establish procedures and get a new executive director on board and start fresh.”

Crowley said House of Hope recently identified a candidate to which it plans to offer the executive director position, and hopes to have someone in that job soon. He said when the decision was made to temporarily move tenants out of the house, officials did not know when they would be able to find a new executive director.

The organization is volunteer-based and the house coordinator overseeing operations at the house would normally be supervised by the executive director, Crowley said, adding such oversight has not happened for the past two months.

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