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Homeless Navy Veteran receives VA housing support

It takes a special kind of resilience to get back up again after a hurricane has left you homeless not once but twice. Navy Veteran Margarita Belmarez has that kind of resilience.

In less than two years and with the support of VA, she’s gone from sleeping in her car to owning her own home.

Belmarez’s story of resilience doesn’t begin with her journey into and out of homelessness. To escape a controlling and abusive parent, Belmarez joined the Navy in 1978. She would end up serving for eight years as a mess management specialist.

Navy Veteran Margarita Belmarez

After training, she was stationed in New Orleans, shuttling passengers across the Mississippi River by boat. But less than a year into her service, Belmarez was assaulted on duty, an experience all too common for women in the military. She was told she needed to keep quiet if she wanted to keep her naval career, so she did her best to bury the trauma.

She completed a tour of duty in the Philippines, attended training school in California and served on the destroyer tender USS Acadia.

Eye of the hurricane… twice

After discharge from the Navy and leaving an abusive marriage, Belmarez returned to New Orleans in 2002. Three years later, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city and her home.

Though her military training had prepared her for the worst, the devastation she witnessed after Katrina was life altering. But she was determined to stick it out and try to make ends meet in Louisiana.

As more hurricanes battered the Gulf Coast, Belmarez found herself without a place to live for the first time. She decided to return to her parents’ home in Texas, not knowing that another hurricane was bearing down on her… Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“Whatever Katrina didn’t take from me, Harvey got the rest,” she said. Over the next few years, she bounced between being sheltered and unsheltered, and eventually found herself sleeping in her car.

VA counselor listened and understood

An older Veteran told Belmarez she needed to connect with VA. She went to the local clinic where she met with a counselor, someone who, for the first time, listened to and understood her experiences as a female Veteran.

Clinic staff connected her with the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program and, within three months, Belmarez was in an apartment of her own.

When she received a 100% disability rating and exceeded the program’s income limits, her HUD-VASH social worker Eddie Sanford pointed her toward the VA home loan program that helped her buy her new house.

“It’s been amazing… the turnaround in my life since VA has come in to assist me. I never knew about the help that was there, but it was,” she said.

Now that she’s back on her feet, Belmarez makes sure to reach out to Veterans who are still struggling with homelessness and steer them toward the VA programs that helped her. Knowing they’ve likely endured similar experiences, she particularly encourages women Veterans to reach out for help.

“When I see my fellow Veterans falling by the wayside, I want to reach down and pick them up. Because that’s what somebody did for me,” 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).

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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