By Rick Mauch
On an episode of “Seinfeld” Fred Costanza is advised by a doctor to use the phrase “Serenity now” to calm himself down.
With Fred, of course, it does not work. However, veterans of war can find peace of mind and help getting their lives back together – including a home – at a place called Serenity Veterans Village.
Lauren Andrade got the idea for SVV, which has locations in Waxahachie and Palmer, a decade ago when she herself was still a soldier.
“When I got back from Iraq in 2010, within six months about three of the soldiers I was deployed with were homeless. I couldn’t do much to help them, but I decided if I ever had the means I would do this,” she recalled.
The mission of SVV is simple, to provide housing to homeless veterans. Currently, they house nine, which includes two children and two spouses who are not veterans themselves.
“We aren’t a weekly or monthly thing. We can be permanent (Vietnam veterans seem to choose this option, she said). We’ve graduated one family of four , and one family (veteran and his daughter) in the last two years,” Andrade said.
Graduated means they were able to clear up old debts, work on credit, have time in their jobs and move into their own homes, Andrade explained.
No veteran pays anything for 30-90 days, and most veterans pay nothing past that. For example, SVV housed a Vietnam vet on full retirement who was receiving $250 a month, his maximum amount, Andrade said. He passed away on Thanksgiving.
How Does A Vet Qualify?
A veteran qualifies to live at SVV by being homeless or at-risk, such as living week-to-week, having domestic issues, losing a job and facing eviction. They enter into a contract to work (or volunteer for Serenity) 20 hours a week, along with a contract to not drink or do drugs. They must also show proof of service in any military. For surviving spouse/dependents the death certificate of the veteran will suffice.
The Waxahachie house is 1,210 square feet. It has three bedrooms, and each veteran’s door is lockable. The residents share a living room and kitchen. There is a house the same size and structure in Palmer, and each has land between a half acre and .87 acre.
Child-friendly homes are foundation-built “tiny homes” and are about 600 square feet with three bedrooms.
Every house has a kitchen, bath and toilet, refrigerator, air-conditioning system, hot water, and sleeping quarters.
All housing is shared unless the veteran has children. But SVV offers more than housing, Andrade noted.
On intake each new resident goes shopping there as they have a thrift store she runs to help make ends meet. However, anything that can be sold to the public, residents choose from for free, including clothing, kitchen wares, bathroom supplies, pillows blankets, etc., and all items for veterans are new.
Also, SVV will supply the first month of food when necessary.
“Generally, they do have access to food stamps and our (seven) food banks. We do job placement with training in all construction fields, offer to assist them with setting up online school. We provide ‘sign out’ cars – we have two currently,” she said. “So the veterans can drive to find jobs or just get around.
“We work with a legal aid for all residents, as well as a woman who helps them file disability. We reach out to courts when there are legal issues, especially drivers licenses – many veterans have lost theirs, and we do make agreements with the court when able to get their ability back.”
SVV Offers Veterans A ‘Real Chance’
SVV operates largely on donations and grants. For example, VFW Ennis and Chicken Express have held fundraisers. Also, recently, they received a grant from the Veterans United Foundation.
In short, Andrade said the biggest benefit from SVV for veterans is “a real chance.”
Also, she said to not be surprised when she takes her program to the national level someday.
“Each village (all states) would be 100-plus acres, housing thousands. Each village would be self-sufficient. Aquaponic greenhouses, chickens, auto shop, restaurant, stores, coffee shops,” she said. “This would provide real resume’ experience for each veteran, while keeping everything for the veterans free, so to speak. We would be open to the public – who would be charged – but the veterans actually work off their ‘bill.'”