Air Force veteran Sandy Blair is on a mission to offer housing to displaced women veterans, so that they can stay safe while rebuilding their lives.
Blair’s Operation WEBS (Women Empowered Build Strong) runs a stability home in California and builds tiny homes for women veterans.
“I want to help women veterans,” Blair, 45, tells PEOPLE. “I want to help them find their way back into society and get on their feet.”
Local politicians, civilians and active duty service members from Vandenberg Air Force Base have pitched in to build the tiny houses. A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs homeless coordinator found women veterans who need housing.
This year, Blair placed four women — two who were living in cars and two who were in a shelter — in a stability home in Orcutt, California. In early November, Blair’s group completed the first of 12 tiny homes to go on a ranch in Santa Barbara County, where women veterans will live.
“We’ve got to think outside the box, and Sandy Blair has stepped up in a major way,” said Steve Lavigno, a district supervisor in Santa Barbara, when talking to local press about homeless women veterans.
For Blair, the mission is personal.
“I am doing this for other women who are in the position I was in,” Blair says. “I was that woman vet.”
Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Blair grew up in New Jersey and enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from high school in 1992. She was a dental technician for much of her 12 years in service. She loved the Air Force, and planned to remain there for her career. After she had an allergic reaction to latex, though, the Air Force wouldn’t let her re-enlist.
“I got discharged within six months,” Blair says.
From there, her life spiraled downward. Divorced and with two small children, Blair couldn’t find work. She ran out of money and lost her housing. A friend in Florida took her in, but still she struggled.
“I was depressed,” Blair says. “I felt worthless. I thought I had no future.”
After her son graduated from high school, Blair moved to California, where she became a real estate agent — and didn’t forget the other women veterans who had fallen on hard times. She used some of her real estate commissions to help found Operation WEBS.
“I found my way out,” Blair says, “but a lot of women vets aren’t there yet. They’re struggling, and haven’t found their way out. They need to get back into society, but first they need stable housing. I looked for a way to help them.”
Blair teamed up with her sister, an Army veteran, and transformed a private house into a group home. In 2016, the sisters bought 17 acres of land. With guidance from local officials and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Blair is pressing forward to turn the 17 acres into a village of tiny homes for women veterans.
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One veteran has found purpose in being part of the effort to help others.
“I was lost and I didn’t know where my place in this world would be,” says Caity Casey, who was injured while on active duty and left the Air Force in January after 11 years in uniform.
As a new civilian, Casey struggled with depression and feelings of worthlessness, failure, anger and despair. She learned by chance about Operation WEBS and volunteered to work on the tiny houses and the village project. The work gave her the purpose she was looking for.
“Blair helped me find my grit again,” says Casey. “A grit that will allow me to help Blair change the world and help other female veterans do the same.”
Casey now serves as communication and events director for Operation WEBS.
“I’m really excited about doing this,” Blair says. “Now it’s a matter of getting the word out to women vets that we’re here.”
Adds Blair: “That is part of our mission. We women veterans are still invisible, even to each other. We need to help each other.”