Army veteran Jas Boothe is living proof that everything happens for a reason. After deploying to Iraq and serving her country faithfully, tragedy struck every part of her life.
In 2005, she was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home and all of her worldly possessions. Just one month later, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of head and neck cancer. After two surgeries and 30 cycles of radiation, Boothe won her battle with cancer.
But more bad news was on the way. After 13 years of service, her position with the Army was downsized, leaving her with no job and eventually, nowhere to live. “I was homeless for about 6 months,” says Boothe. “When I got out of the military hospital, [the Army] basically said, ‘Bye. You’re no longer our problem.’ That was such a kick in the teeth for me.”
“I felt worthless. I felt thrown away. That was probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever experienced.”
Fortunately, Boothe had family and friends who helped her get back on her feet. After seeing a homeless woman veteran who was living out of her car featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and hearing that there are an estimated 55,000 homeless women veterans in America, Boothe decided to act.
Hours later, she launched what would become Final Salute, her non-profit organization to provide safe housing for homeless women veterans and their children, a service not readily accessible to women veterans—the fastest growing population of the homeless—Boothe says.
“Over 60% of the programs that take in veterans don’t take in women or don’t take in women with children or they have age limits on the children or they have limits on how many kids you can take.” That’s not the case with Final Salute.
In just 3 years, Boothe’s organization has supported more than 300 women in 15 states. She and her husband and their young son have also added another member to their family temporarily, a little girl whose mother is currently serving in Afghanistan.
For Boothe, however, the goal is not to help more women and their children, but for there to be no more women and children for Final Salute to have to help.
“My ultimate goal is: I want to be out of business. [Final Salute] is not a career plan for me. We don’t need more houses for Final Salute, we need less homeless women veterans. I don’t want any veteran, male or female, to have to be homeless on American soil.”
At the 2014 D.C. stop of Oprah Winfrey’s Life You Want tour, Boothe was surprised with the Toyota Standing O-Vation award, a grant of $25,000 for Final Salute. The award, she says, is confirmation from God.
“I always say that God gives you a mission but He doesn’t give you a blueprint, and so you just have to find yourself along the way. But this [award] is validation from God that I am on the right track and I’m doing the things that He asked me to do.”
Boothe is challenging Americans to do the same and champion the cause of our homeless veterans.
“This is not a military issue, this is an American issue. We as Americans have to do something for our veterans.”
Unfortunately, she is far away from her ultimate goal to end homelessness for women veterans.
“I don’t think I’m done. The military has drawn down and there are going to be a lot of people out of jobs, a lot of mothers out of jobs. Women and children still need our support.”
As long as this is an American problem, Boothe will be there to support and advocate for these women and children whom she considers her family. “We’re military women so we have that common bond. We’re all still sisters. We’ve all served, we’ve all sacrificed, we’re all on common ground.”
“I’ve been where they are and I think they respect that, because I don’t see them as a project or something to pity. I’ve been there, and that’s why I’m doing this.”
For more information on Final Salute, visit FinalSaluteInc.org.