As a case manager for a Jacksonville nonprofit serving female veterans at risk, Natalie Marcano-Sidberry draws on her own military experience and subsequent combat.
She was in the US Navy for 11 years. And after that she was homeless for a year, even after brain surgery, but was unable to get help because somehow she had too much income.
“It was a really tough time. It was scary to find parking at night. It was exhausting to stay at work because I knew I had no roof over my head,” she said. “I looked for a hand but couldn’t get the help I needed. … I had to learn to smile even though I was dying inside.”
That was 2016. But she made it.
On Thursday, Marcano-Sidberry was present as a success story when her nonprofit employer, Northeast Florida Women Veterans, launched a new project that will provide emergency shelter to female veterans and their children affected by homelessness.
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A safe haven just for them
HerSPACE is a 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville Beach owned and donated to St. Andrews Lutheran Church By-the-Sea.
Starting this summer, Northeast Florida Women’s Veterans will temporarily house up to eight female veterans and their children on the premises, while the nonprofit helps them find long-term housing and meet other needs.
“This is what we prayed for,” said Deloris “Dee” Quaranta, the nonprofit’s founder, president and CEO. “While there are shelters in the area, beds for female veterans with children are limited. In fact, there are limited beds for female veterans. Many of our customers sleep in their cars because they fear security situations. Some sleep on the sofa another person, maybe in an unhealthy situation. ”
Female veterans become homeless for the same “countless reasons” as other people: evictions, job losses, broken relationships, and mental health problems, among others, she said.
Your stay at HerSPACE could last from a few days to six months. If the housing needs are more than three weeks, the veteran must participate in the nonprofit’s HerTOTALWellness program, which helps them become self-sufficient.
You’ll also need to register for Veterans Affairs services, if you haven’t already, and meet with an advisor from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (VA Supportive Housing Program), which provides federal housing vouchers with supportive services for Veterans combined.
For Quaranta, this means that we don’t have to worry about where to put someone at 4 p.m. We don’t need to find a longer stay [hotel room] and get through the paperwork. I can sleep better at night when I know that a woman and maybe a child are no longer in danger. My job is not done. By far not. I still have a few things to do. “
Always a need, but others intervene
Still needed, she said, is additional funding for Northeast Florida Women Veterans programs. The nonprofit was supposed to receive government funding last year but was vetoed by the governor, likely due to the state’s financial burdens associated with the pandemic. Quaranta applied again this year and hopes it will be approved.
“Our biggest stressor is the lack of funding,” she said. “Honestly, we’re not giving up. Funding or not, this work is not going to fail. These are women who have given more than you know to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.”
When Quaranta looked for donated items for the HerSPACE house, local organizations that serve veterans grew stronger.
“I sent an email about the new project. Within five minutes my phone rang and emails came in from people who wanted to help,” she said.
Among those who responded was Rory Diamond, CEO of K9 for Warriors, who donated a new refrigerator, large flat-screen TV, and two sets of linens for eight beds. The Wounded Warrior Project donated towels, pots, pans, dishes and other kitchen utensils and sent a team to upgrade the landscaping. Tony G. D’Aleo, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1046, brought towels. And former Senator Tony Hill, who now works for US Representative Al Lawson, brought a bed with a mattress, a matching bedside table, and a chest of drawers.
“We are proud to support HerSPACE, an important initiative that embodies our own commitment to helping veterans who need them most,” said Diamond. “We admire the women veterans of northeast Florida for being a valuable resource for female veterans and their children in our community.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project, said, “We understand that the unique needs of women warriors require an extensive network of support, and we believe this facility is alongside the other powerful programs offered by Northeast Florida Women Veterans will continue to support and empower homeless female veterans on their journey to self-sufficiency. “
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Even Quaranta’s mother helps and works on new curtains for the house.
“This is the kind of miracle you don’t see every day, but I think you just have to do the job and the help will come,” Quaranta said.
A reason to get up
Marcano-Sidberry, now 43, did the job.
While homeless and later in an animal shelter, she began volunteering for nonprofits. Interacting with other women who had similar studies gave her the confidence to pull herself up, receive the veteran benefits she deserves, and go back to school to study as a case manager.
“It gave me purpose and reason to get up every day and help others,” she said. “I decided that I would no longer accept no from someone who was not qualified to tell me no. I prayed daily and asked God to command my steps. I began reading veteran programs to see what was available was to me. I started helping other female veterans. “
That volunteering – and her children, who lived with her father when she was homeless – “kept me alive,” said Marcano-Sidberry. “I got the tools to get out of the fire and not smell like smoke.”
And now, as a case manager, it’s all for me to help other female veterans and have HerSPACE as a resource, “she said.” To create a safe space, a clean space, a healing space and a place to breathe while I do help them at work to get out of homelessness. “
“This is my passion … and I pick it up just thinking about how many women we protect, love, heal and help them have better tomorrow every day,” said Marcano-Sidberry.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109
NORTHEAST FLORIDA WOMEN VETERANS
Call to find services, donate, volunteer, or get more information (904) 862-6039, email [email protected] or go to forwomenvets.org.