Home from the battlefieldPublished 10:52pm Wednesday, March 19, 2014
For 13 years, Mari Richardson served her country with courage and sacrifice.
In the U.S. Air Force, she served around the world, as well as in Afghanistan with Operation Enduring Freedom, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Then, after being medically discharged and returning home to live as a wounded veteran, Richardson and her 10-year-old daughter found themselves homeless.
But on Wednesday, after a multi-agency effort to lift them out of their dire situation, Richardson was handed the keys to her new, refurbished home in North Suffolk, on Bradford Drive.
Choking back tears, Richardson told those gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, “My mother, she’s not here to see this, to see how a community (came) together and provided for me. I appreciate it. Thank you; this is a blessing.”
Pulling Richardson and her daughter out of homelessness, something not uncommon in the veteran community, began with the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program’s search for a homeless veteran to support, said Carol Berg, regional director of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services program.
“We went to work with the Veterans Affairs Department to find a family with a significant need at the time,” Berg said.
After settling upon Richardson, she said, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development approached the program about getting involved. “They said they would like to present a home to a veteran — they wanted to get a veteran in the home by the holidays.”
There were “challenges” with an initial home that was found, Berg said, so the department approached the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
The housing authority looked at three properties, she said, before Berg and colleagues took Richardson to inspect one particular property that “appeared to be a good fit.”
The authority purchased the property under the housing and community development department’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which received $38.7 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2008 to purchase, rehabilitate and resell foreclosed homes in areas most impacted by the foreclosure epidemic, including Hampton Roads.
Including Richardson, the housing authority has helped 11 participants with its Homebuyer Program during the past two years, according to a news release.
Cheri Miles, NSP program manager for Virginia, said Richardson would be able to own her home mortgage-free provided she does not sell it within 15 years.
If Richardson does sell within that period, Miles said, a lien on the property would allow the program to recoup its money.
“We don’t like to see veterans that have served and sacrificed … come home and face the possibility that they are not going to have a home to be able to move into,” Berg said during Wednesday’s ceremony. When I spoke to her (Richardson) yesterday, she was just chirping on the phone with excitement.”