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April 12, 2012 05:05 PM

Women of War Program Helps Homeless Vets

Belle Fourche, SD

Female veterans are two-to-three times more likely to be homeless than their male counterparts.  But a program in Belle Fourche is tailored to fit their needs and help get them off of the streets.

Ladean Bennett wore her insignia proudly as a member of the 82nd Airborne. She was inspired to enlist by her little brother, who served as a Marine.

"In my head, I could picture myself taking over the whole country and saving my brother's life," veteran Ladean Bennett said.

But after four years, in 1996, Bennett was discharged and her life began to fall apart.

"It felt really lonely, and it also felt like I didn't fit in anywhere," Bennett said.

She eventually began abusing drugs.  The proud veteran was too proud to ask for help.  She ended up living on the street.

But in February, Bennett arrived in Belle Fourche where the Women of War program is helping her turn her life around.

"I've been sober for four months on April 5.  I've got my CNA certificate back, they've given me my CPR license and they're helping me get my nursing license back," Bennett said.

The Belle Fourche home provides a safe place for homeless female veterans, like Bennett, to get back on their feet.

"This is not a program where one size fits all and it's a cookie cutter.  Each one of them comes to us as a unique individual and each one needs a unique, individualized plan," Women of War's program manager Marian Christensen said.

Women learn necessary skills, through working or volunteering, and doing chores around the facility.

"We're not just giving handouts here.  Every person here has a responsibility to the project and to themselves on a daily basis," Christensen said.

The goal is to help veterans live on their own, but for now Bennett says this is home.

"It changes your life.  I may not be out there doing great big discoveries and making a big change in the world or anything, but my life is changing right now, learning how to live back in society again," Bennett said.

The shelter currently has six residents, with two more expected by the end of the week.

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