- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

CARTERVILLE, Mo. (AP) - Lisa Woody’s cozy duplex now has an American flag flying out front and a yellow ribbon tied to one of the posts on the front porch.

But not so long ago, Woody didn’t have a home to display her patriotism. She was one of the nearly 50,000 veterans in the United States who are considered homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Woody said she lived in her car with her dog, Bella, in the Galena, Kansas, area for nine months. Now, she can put a more positive spin on the experience, describing it as being “like camping out.”

Woody attributed her new outlook to her renewed faith “and this,” she said, as she gestured around the living room of her new duplex in Carterville.

“I can smile now; getting this place has made everything turn around,” she said.

The Joplin Globe (http://bit.ly/1MkJOiQ ) reports that forty-three-year-old Woody is a tenant in Patriot Park, a housing complex for homeless veterans completed late last year.

The complex has 12 units, and all but four are rented, according Bryan West, a community development specialist with the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council, which built and oversees the complex along with other affordable housing projects in Jasper County.

The units are small - 475 square feet each with a combined living room and galley, bedroom, bathroom and utility room. West described them as “compact and efficient,” designed to limit utility bills for renters.

“We had one tenant just move in, and I just signed a lease on another one,” he said. “We want to get them all filled.”

According to the Alliance, the number of homeless veterans has been falling for the past five years as a percentage of the larger national homeless population, but still, at nearly 9 percent of the country’s homeless population, they are disproportionately high. The Alliance also noted a disturbing trend in recent years: As troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, they tend to be younger, female and heads of households.

Woody was sent by Veteran’s Administration counselors to Catholic Charities in Joplin, which coordinates with the VA to provide help for veterans in the area. It was there that she learned about Patriot Park.

“They (Catholic Charities) helped me with my deposit, rent, water and electric deposits,” Woody said. “I wouldn’t have been able to get this otherwise.”

That’s also how William Kennedy got hooked up with Patriot Park. At 56, he is the newest occupant, moving in at the end of February. After living in his truck for about three months, he said he appreciates his new home, even though he has little furniture beyond a bed.

“This is a good idea,” he said. “A lot of vets are hurting and don’t know where to go for help.”

Both veterans get a small disability pension from the federal government; rent at the duplexes is based on income.

Woody said she served four years in the U.S. Army as a member of the signal corps, setting up computers for Army communications and information systems. She left in 1997 after a training injury caused bone and nerve damage in her left hand.

“I couldn’t hold a rifle, and I had back injuries; the Army leaves you sort of beat up,” she said. “But I’d go back today if I could.”

Woody said she joined up after meeting her future husband, who also was in the U.S. Army. After she left the service, she followed him to his deployments and stayed active at Family Readiness Groups at the military bases where he was stationed. After she and her husband separated in 2013, she said she moved to St. Louis and then returned to the area to be close to her mother, who now lives in Galena. Her limited savings were wiped out, she said, when she rented a house in Galena.

“It was in foreclosure, and they weren’t authorized to rent it. It took all the money I had to get into the house, then the bank made me move,” she said.

Kennedy, too, represents another trend picked up by the Alliance: More than half of homeless veterans have some form of mental or physical disability. He said he has serious problems with depression that contributed to his homelessness.

Kennedy said he served 13 years - 10 in the U.S. Navy as a machinist and another three in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer. He said he left the service in 1992 and spent years working in factories and other jobs in the Neosho and Monett areas.

Williams was born in Kansas City but lived most of his life in the Monett and Pierce City areas. He said his parents helped him financially, though he was reluctant to accept it, even when he was homeless.

“I’m stubborn; I don’t like asking for help,” he said. “It took me 10 years to go to the VA.”

Besides housing assistance, both veterans also get counseling and medical assistance from the VA, along with camaraderie and moral support from their neighbor veterans.

Williams said living close to others with similar experiences had made him feel more comfortable in the complex.

“We understand each other; military is family.” he said. “And this is good because it helps people get back on their feet and helps them find their personal value.”

Woody said all branches of the military are represented at Patriot Park and all the tenants “were homeless at one time or another.”

“This is such a great place,” she said. “I’d like to find a way to advocate for this sort of housing in other areas. And I’d like to see them build some family units too.”

West said the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council owns nearly 31 acres that could allow the group to build more housing for veterans. He also said the idea originated at a conference on housing, where he heard a presentation on homeless veterans and the need for veterans’ housing.

“We wanted to see what we could do to help,” he said.

The VA has identified homeless veterans as one of its priorities and has worked with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to respond. One of the results has been the VA Supportive Housing program, which subsidizes some housing costs for homeless veterans such as Woody and Williams.

Patriot Park was constructed a cost of $575,000, with a $281,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank and the remainder in conventional financing from Southwest Missouri Bank.

In addition to working with Catholic Charities, West said planners in developing the project also worked with VA officials and officials at H.O.U.S.E., a regional group that provides transitional housing for veterans battling drug and alcohol abuse.

Steve Mickels, H.O.U.S.E. executive director, praised the complex.

“It’s a great thing to have this kind of specialized housing for veterans; we want our vets in the best place possible,” he said.

Along with a housing program, the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council provides community development, economic development, environmental planning and transportation planning programs for communities in the region.

___

Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide