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Brush with homelessness leads Air Force Veteran to helping others

This is more than a story. This is an Air Force Veteran’s life.

That’s what Air Force Veteran Patricia (Pat) James-Booker wants you to remember as you read about her experience with homelessness. She is more than a statistic or words on a page. She’s a person whose life, like many others, took an unfortunate turn.

James-Booker had done everything she was supposed to do to keep a roof over her head. After an eight-year career in the Air Force, she went to nursing school and worked as a licensed practical nurse for 20 years.

Despite suffering two strokes that forced her to retire early, James-Booker had an apartment in Wilmington, Delaware, and filled her days volunteering with other Veterans. Money was tight after her retirement, but she was managing.

Then came COVID-19. After the pandemic ended, her landlord decided not to renew her lease. James-Booker did everything she could to find a new apartment she could afford before her lease ran out, but her income was limited due to her early retirement and local rents had risen dramatically. With only a few weeks left, she was facing the prospect of becoming homeless.

Finding support

Luckily, help was nearby. Through her volunteer work at VA Wilmington Healthcare System, James-Booker learned about the many programs available to Veterans at risk of homelessness.

She applied for a housing voucher through the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program and temporarily moved into the Hope Shelter, a converted hotel run by the state of Delaware while looking for a rental.

She ultimately lived in her HUD-VASH apartment for a year before inheriting a house from her late father, a Marine who inspired her military service.

Though she didn’t need to take advantage of most of them, James-Booker was impressed by the wraparound support programs offered to homeless Veterans by VA, including mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment and even budgeting assistance. She enjoyed spiritual counseling where she could talk to a VA chaplain judgment-free about her feelings surrounding homelessness.

“That’s what I love about the HUD-VASH program. It’s tailored to what the Veteran actually needs. Take advantage of this program because it truly does work,” she said.

A life of meaning

James-Booker hasn’t let her brief period of homelessness get her down. In fact, it has motivated her to do even more. Her former HUD-VASH case manager, Sabriya Sabur, called her a role model.

These days her schedule only includes one day off. The rest of the week, she’s busy working with the nonprofit group she founded, continuing to volunteer at VA and serving as a mentor in the Philadelphia Veterans Court. She is also in the Delaware Civil Air Patrol.

Her special project, Veterans in Between, is an organization for women Veterans and widows of Veterans that offers social support and group outings, as well as transportation for things like appointments at VA. Looking to expand the project, James-Booker hopes to be able to open her home to Veterans who need a place to stay but don’t qualify for the HUD-VASH program.

For many years, she has also been a mentor to women Veterans in the Veterans Court in Philadelphia, helping guide them through their time in the court system.

At first, James-Booker felt she needed to hide her experience with homelessness from those she works with, but she has since learned the importance of being open and showing that anyone’s life can go through highs and lows.

“I realized being silent was not a good thing. You need to share what you go through because it will help other people,” she added.

Learn about VA programs 

If you are a Veteran who is homeless or at risk for homelessness, call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). For other resources:

Visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn about housing initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness. 

Check out the Ending Veteran Homelessness podcast to learn more about what VA is doing about Veteran homelessness. 

Learn how to get involved with housing homeless Veterans.

Subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness. 

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