Many know her best as the founder of PAWS – Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society and Center City socialite who’s dabbled in publishing, real estate development, restaurants and even politics. Now, Dana Spain is into a new project.
“I went from sheltering pets to sheltering vets,” she joked during a recent phone interview.
Spain is the president of Haven Women, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in West Philly that serves as temporary housing for female veterans looking to transition back to civilian life after suffering one form of trauma or another. It’s the city’s only one of its kind serving only women who are currently experiencing homelessness.
Formerly the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House, Spain took it over last year for several reasons. She had just stepped off the board of PAWS, had already been a tacit donor to the house under its previous incarnation, and “had a minute to take the keys of rebuilding the organization,” she said.
Before Spain took the reins, though, she called it: “A bit of a wild west perimeter,” at one point housing men, women and children together under one roof.
“If we could have knocked it down, we would have, but that was not an option, so we had to renovate the house from roof to basement and everywhere in between…”
“And while the work was going on and we were making partnerships with other veterans service organizations, what we realized was that there was a staggering increase in female veterans who were cycling through homelessness or housing and security and there were very few options for women – especially in a women-specific perimeter – what most women veterans need because of the high rate of military sexual trauma, which is a form of PTSD,” she said.
When she reopened the house as Haven Women – which is an acronym for Helping Achieve Veteran Empowerment Now – Spain said she changed its mission to be specific to helping women. It can house 12 residents at a time (according to code compliance) and offers enrichment programs, which most city shelters do not. Women can take part in workshops like learning how to shop on a budget, cooking classes, yoga and self-defense classes, arts and crafts, peer-to-peer counseling, “accountability” training, financial literacy programs and more.
“Most shelters are three hots and a cot, but in our environment, we have a lot of learning opportunities and a mind-body-spirit mantra, which is – we want you to be healthy inside and out,” she said.
“It’s a full, holistic approach to helping women make positive decisions and break the cycle of homelessness.”
When she restructured Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House and rebranded it as Haven Women, Spain streamlined the fundraising process so that all donations go directly to the women. “When you give to the charity,” she said, “you are helping supply them with everything they need for the house.”
“There’s no fluff in there,” she said.
We asked if any of the Haven Women would share their stories, but they were reticent.
A little known fact about Spain herself – although she has no children of her own – at age 50, she is a grandmother of two by way of her recent marriage to Walter Moore, a retired SEPTA cop and Golden Gloves boxer. We asked her to share something most Philadelphians don’t know about her.
“If there’s a horse, I will ride it,” she said.
“I’ve ridden in 10 countries and used to be on a team in college. Anywhere I go on vacation, if there’s an opportunity to get on a horse, Dana is on that horse.”