Colleen Madigan

AUGUSTA — An Augusta home for homeless and in-need women veterans has hired an interim executive director whom officials and residents hope will help reorganize and make improvements to the facility.

Those officials, however, still plan to have the home’s four residents move out, even though the residents say they have become like a family to one another and do not want to leave.

Last week, the board of the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope announced it had hired Colleen Madigan, a licensed clinical social worker and state representative from Waterville, to become the organization’s interim executive director.

In a prepared announcement, board members said they will work with Madigan to revise, update and develop innovative policies and safety measures for the house as it goes through a reorganization. The organization has been without a leader since the former director and founder, Martha St. Pierre, left about two months ago.

Madigan said she looks forward to her new role.

“It’s a program I really believe in and I have this passion for building evidence-based housing transition programs,” she said Saturday. “I think female veterans and their families are an underserved group that needs assistance.

“I support building it into something that’ll really be there for the future. I think everybody wants to support this house and program and the women in there now, and I’m going to work to make that happen.”

However, Madigan said the nonprofit organization’s plans still include having the home’s four current residents move out during the reorganization.

All four women have said they do not want to leave one another or the home where resident Angela Husband said each has come to rely on the others, on help from the house coordinator and on the services available to them at the facility.

“We’re requesting they keep us in the home, together, while they adjust their policies,” said Husband, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Persian Gulf. “This house is not just a tenancy with reduced rent. It’s a program where there are multiple services that meet the needs of the different generations of veterans in the house. It’s a family environment, like a home. We’ve become a unit that functions really well together. If we have to move elsewhere, we’ll be in isolation.”

Madigan met the current residents of the home last week. The introduction went well, according to Madigan, Husband and resident Katrina Zuckerman, who was a Seabee in the Navy from 2008 to 2016.

“She was very empathetic. She took the time to know our stories and how we came into the house,” Husband said. “I hope she may be able to reach the rest of the board (of directors of the House of Hope).

“I’m cautiously optimistic, because of everything we’ve been through. I think she understood us, but she’s one woman. I’m hopeful with a new executive director having a background in social work, that gives me great hope she’ll have more of an understanding how much more complex this is.”

Madigan said the organization still plans to have the four women leave the house, at least temporarily, while the reorganization takes place and to allow for a fresh start.

Madigan said she understands the bond the women have with one another and said donors have come forward with funds she hopes to use to help keep the women together, wherever they end up living.

While Madigan would not commit to keeping the women at the house during the reorganization, she also did not rule it out.

“They’re a great group of women, and I’m aware they’ve formed a strong bond and want to stay together,” Madigan said. “Some donors have come forward and I’m going to do my best to keep them together in some way. It’s really positive they’ve had the experience they’ve had here and that’s not something I want to pull apart.”

Madigan, who will continue to work as a social worker apart from House of Hope, said she expects to increase the time she puts into the interim executive director’s position beginning the week of June 1.

In a statement on the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope Facebook page, the board of directors wrote it believes Madigan’s hiring will “bring sunnier days to the future of the organization,” but noted it will not be accepting any referrals until new “policies are established to guarantee the safety and well being of the veterans while staying at Betsy Ann Ross.”

Madigan said she does not know how long her interim role will last, referring questions about that to the board of directors.

John Crowley, public relations chairman for the organization, who discussed the House of Hope’s plan to reorganize and empty the house of residents during that reorganization with a reporter last week, could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

Husband said she thinks the board needs to “understand how to better serve the population they said they would serve.”

The four residents — Husband; Zuckerman; Rebecca Danley, a former Navy nurse who served from 1974 to 1978 who was placed in the House of Hope by a social service after she suffered elder abuse; and Valerie Hatch, who served as a munitions specialist in the Army in 1981 — said they were told May 14 by Anita Weeks, president of the board of directors, they had to be out of the facility by May 19.

Crowley and Madigan said last week the residents will be allowed to stay at the house for as long as it takes for them to find new, safe housing — as long as they continue to seek new housing.

Husband said she and the other three veterans are looking for other living arrangements, and have been receiving much help from Easter Seals officials.

She said she is concerned the four women veterans and House of Hope officials might have differing definitions of “safe housing.”

Crowley said last week one reason the residents needed to move was some of them are at higher risk if they were to catch COVID-19, so they should not be in the congregate-living situation at the home.

Husband said staying at a hotel would only increase the four women’s risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.

Madigan said the women will not be moved to housing that is unsafe.

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