An Orcutt home will house homeless women veterans thanks to the work of nonprofit Operation WEBS, which was founded one year ago to help women transition to civilian life after leaving the military.
On Thursday, Operation WEBS — which stands for Women Empowered Build Strong — celebrated the opening of its women veterans stability home with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Since April, two formerly homeless veterans have called the four-bedroom house their home.
The move is the first phase in a multiyear plan to develop an organization that will support women veterans to rebuild their lives after leaving the military — a mission that is personal for Operation WEBS founder Sandy Blair.
Blair, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, knows firsthand how difficult the transition to civilian life can be for those leaving the military.
After being discharged from the military in 2005, she was unemployed for over a year, lost her home and lived with her best friend until she was able to get back on her feet.
Veterans are often not prepared for the transition into civilian life when leaving active-duty service, Blair said.
“In the military, it’s always secure,” she said. “The stability is there, camaraderie is there. When that’s stripped away, you don’t have a first sergeant to ask what the next step is.
“There are so many levels of transition happening, and I don’t think civilians really understand that component of it,” Blair continued. “Then you add the layer post-traumatic stress disorder, then you add the layer traumatic brain injury, then you add the layer of sexual trauma.
“There’s so many layers that the adjustment is near impossible.”
Blair’s personal experience with near-homelessness planted the seed for her current passion, which is to build a tiny-home village on the Central Coast for women veterans.
Blair, who now works as a real estate agent, purchased a 17-acre ranch in the Santa Maria Valley with the intention of moving her family there and turning the property into a tiny-home village.
When Blair became aware of veterans who needed immediate help, she scrapped plans to rent out her family’s old home in Orcutt and decided it would serve as a stability home for up to four female veterans.
While work continues on the tiny-home village, Blair said it is likely a multiyear project and there is an urgent need for a women veterans home.
“I had a meeting with [5th District Supervisor] Steve Lavagnino about Stand Down and learned last year they identified 15 homeless women veterans in Santa Barbara County,” she said. “Now it was an immediate thing — I had to do something. I thought, ‘We have this home, we have four bedrooms. If I can even help one of the 15.’”
After meeting with Supportive Services for Veteran Families program coordinator Victor Virgen, Blair was connected with a veteran who had been at the Good Samaritan Shelter for two years and another who had been living in her car.
The two women are now the first veterans living at the stability home.
“This is where these women come, get stable, connected with resources, bond with each other, talk about stuff and be themselves,” Blair said. “This is their home — they can be here as long as they want.”