Every weekday morning, Odester Lawrence gets up at 4:30 to catch the bus to the VA Hospital, where she works as a housekeeper. It is a short trip in distance, but a large step in her life journey.
Odester has worked at the VA since she moved into Piquette Square for Veterans when it opened in June 2010. It is the longest stretch of work Odester has had since she left the Army in 1982 after serving three years.
“It’s all good since I came to Piquette,” Odester says. “I’m more self-sufficient than before, and I know my life will continue to get better, as long as I do what I am supposed to do.”
Odester, 51, decided to join the Army when she was 19. She hoped it would give her a sense of discipline to deter harmful tendencies in her life. In the years after her service, her life unraveled from an abusive marriage, alcohol and substance abuse, welfare dependency, and, ultimately, homelessness.
“I finally realized that I would soon be dead if I didn’t get help,” Odester says. “I went to my two grown sons and asked for their prayers and forgiveness, and then I entered rehab.”
Odester has been clean since mid-2009. Because of her good work ethic, she was hired full-time at the VA Hospital, after working part-time there for a year and a half. In her Piquette apartment, she proudly displays a certificate from the VA for going beyond her duties to help another in need. She received the honor for helping the daughter of a serviceman who was at the VA for treatment. While waiting for her father, the daughter experienced diabetic distress, and Odester was the first to notice.
“Because I am diabetic myself, I recognized the symptoms,” Odessa says. “I alerted the doctors right away and then got her some orange juice to raise her blood sugar.”
Odester says that her sense of duty and discipline has been rekindled by living at Piquette. She has taken advantage of many of the support services, including employment assistance, computer classes, counseling, and special activities sponsored by Piquette donors and volunteers. Her community involvement has also picked up. She has become a member of a church located a block from Piquette.
Odester’s experience exemplifies how Piquette has become a national model to help formerly homeless veterans rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society. Piquette is one of the largest projects of its kind, providing 150 units of permanent supportive housing.
Each and every veteran at Piquette develops an individualized service plan, in consultation with Piquette staff, within three months of moving in. This plan specifies goals and outlines a timetable of accomplishing them.
Half of the Piquette tenants have participated in a class or program to enhance their job readiness. One fifth are now working, and 12 are currently in school seeking a degree.
In a recent survey, 92% of the Piquette veterans say they are “significantly better off” since they moved in. Most report that their health has improved and they now feel more a part of the community.
Without the comprehensive support services at Piquette, these successful outcomes would not be possible. Unfortunately, the initial funding for these services are set to expire. Southwest Solutions is seeking other funding sources and donations to sustain these services long term and make sure that these veterans do not fall through the cracks of community responsibility again.
Please consider giving to this important cause. To contribute online, click the donate button on the top of our website or use this direct link.To learn more about the Piquette appeal, email Janette or call 313-297-1372.