This article was originally published in November 2019.
From her bright smile, you wouldn’t know that our parent of the week is a military veteran who survived a decade of domestic abuse, experienced homelessness with her two kids, and struggles with PTSD. In spite of these hardships, she founded her own nonprofit organization and regularly volunteers with her family in support of worthy causes.
Sally Mary S. de Leon is the Executive Director of the Veterans Community Housing Council (VCHC), a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to empower homeless veterans facing housing challenges. She has two children, Mark, 19, and Bernadette, 21, and three Havanese pups, Samantha, Daisy, and Lily.
Where might parents run into your family around town?
I am at the Seattle VA Hospital three days a week. I shop at the 4th Ave Costco and Fou Lee on Beacon Hill and buy freshly baked bread from Despi Delite Bakery. I spend just about every Friday at Luther’s Table for lunch (often takeout) right before I go into the Renton Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) office to serve my fellow veterans.
Can you tell us a little about your time in the military?
I initially joined the military for the opportunity to attend college while earning the Army College Montgomery GI Bill. I spent my active service stationed in Germany. I loved my service and there have been many moments where I wished I served until retirement, but that’s a dream long gone. My job was exciting and inspirational. I felt that I was making a difference every day that I served.
What do you wish more people understood about veterans?
Veterans are different because our training changed us and the way we think. Combat (or related trauma) has an impact on the way veterans interact with the world outside the military. Transitioning can be a challenge, but it makes it easier when their home welcomes them. Veterans were taught to be resourceful and autonomous, which makes it harder for them to recognize when they need to ask for help. They often feel that there is someone out there who needs it more than they do.
How did your family become homeless?
I lost my house during the housing market fallout. I didn’t understand what an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) was. It wasn’t until I lost my house that I learned about the VA benefits that help save veterans’ homes. The VA has an amazing group of social workers who are great advocates and cheerleaders. My case manager helped me map out my route to recovery. Not only was I recovering from homelessness, but I was also in hiding from my ex-husband. He is a veteran, too, who abused me for years. After the divorce, he threatened to kill me and our children if I did not go back to him. My children helped me to stay focused. They are my purpose for being and I needed to ensure they were safe. We were homeless and in-between transitional housing from 2010-2015. We bought our current home in 2015.
How can Seattle families support veterans experiencing homelessness?
Seattle families can support Veterans experiencing homelessness by ensuring veterans feel welcomed home. I know that would be hard when they do not have a home. Helping organizations like The VCHC through volunteering and/or monetary donations helps. The VCHC provides veterans with information and much-needed peer support. We are the only organization in the nation who provides direct peer support to fellow homeless Veterans. The VCHC continues to fill service gaps. Who else has better knowledge about homelessness recovery and sustainability than a fellow veteran who has gone through it?
What kind of volunteer work do you do with your family?
Since 2011, my family and I have volunteered at several local nonprofits like the ACLU of WA, Legal Voice, Solid Ground, Poverty Action Network, and The Seattle Chinese Girls Community Drill Team. I marched with the Drill team from middle school through freshman in high school. My daughter started when she was in sixth grade and continues to volunteer. We have marched at the Seattle Pride Parade, served at annual fundraising events, spoke publicly about community empowerment and lobbied in Olympia with lawmakers.
Is there anything that you’re working on that the Seattle’s Child community could help you with?
The VCHC continues to operate by its shoestrings. We need help: we need direct donations to continue our services. Even the smallest donations is welcome. One hundred percent of your contribution will go directly to helping veterans and their families in need.
You can support Sally’s work helping local veterans navigate housing challenges by donating to her organization Veterans Community Housing Council here.
Your family can also mark Veteran’s Day by tuning in to the City of Auburn Veterans Remembrance Ceremony. Information here.