Maria Alcazar beamed as she clutched the keys.
The Navy veteran surveyed the two-bedroom town house in San Pedro that she could now, finally, call home.
“You fight for freedom but you carry so much with you after you leave the military,” said Alcazar, 34.
“But with this: I feel like I’m dealing with freedom for the first time.”
Alcazar is one of five female veterans who moved Tuesday into one of the first housing projects in the country that focuses on female veterans facing homelessness.
By the end of this year, the Blue Butterfly Village -- named for the endangered Palos Verdes Blue butterfly that’s protected in a nearby preserve -- will provide homes to 73 veterans and their children.
“Women have a specific set of issues transitioning out of the military. And we have a duty to support them through the process,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who welcomed the women to the community with city officials and Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald.
“To all of the veteran women, I’m proud to be one of the first to say ‘welcome home,’ ” McDonald said.
For many women, the adjustment to civilian life is not without obstacles. Female veterans are the fastest-growing part of the homeless population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2013, 8% of the nation's nearly 58,000 homeless veterans were women, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Blue Butterfly Village sits on land that was used until the late 1990s for U.S. Navy family housing. The nonprofit Volunteers of America Los Angeles, which spent more than $15 million refurbishing the site, acquired the nine-acre property after the Long Beach shipyards closed.
The gated community has round-the-clock security, and an additional guard patrols the grounds at night. The veterans living in the community will gain access to healthcare and job training.
Each two-story house can hold a family of up to six and has been outfitted by interior designers with furniture and appliances.
The community also features a playground enclosed by a picket fence, complete with swing sets and a gabled treehouse that evokes a Disney fantasy.
On Tuesday, two young girls giggled as they went higher on the swings, while a young boy stood from the treehouse's balcony like the commander of his own imagined kingdom.
Standing nearby, a mother joked that her daughter might scrawl on the walls of the new home. Another said her son may track dirt into the foyer. That such trivial matters were now a concern made them both laugh.
“Right now, I don’t worry too much if my kids flip the house upside down. A house can always be cleaned,” said Laydia Mockabee, 29, a Navy veteran. “I can’t stress as long as I have a permanent roof over my head.”
For news in California, follow @JeromeRCampbell.