25 February 2010

Transitional Apartments Offer Help to Homeless Veterans

Fort Worth Business Press

The finishing touches are all in place at Liberty House: the walls are painted, the carpet is in, the beds are turned down and the staff is ready to welcome home the first residents in a new transitional housing program for homeless veterans in Tarrant County.

Liberty House, a partnership between Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County (MHMRTC) and the United States Veterans Administration (VA), could begin accepting residents by March 1, once final approval is received from the government.

Located at 1501 E. El Paso St. adjacent to MHMRTC on the city’s near east side, Liberty House is part of Mayor Mike Moncrief’s 10-year plan to end homelessness in Fort Worth. The program also is an answer to a crucial need for residential, substance abuse and family supportive services for homeless vets in the community, according to Nikki Hatley, executive director of MHMR Visions. Founded in 2001, Visions is the charitable arm of MHMRTC and helps mobilize local resources and volunteers to bridge the gap in services the agency provides.

“There are almost 16,000 homeless veterans in Texas,” Hatley said, “and 920 of them are here in Tarrant County.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides funding for only 233 beds statewide. Liberty House will provide 30 beds for vets, who will stay about six months on average, but can stay up to a maximum of two years, Hatley said.

The need for more transitional housing for homeless vets is sobering, said John Goodrich, senior vice president of Worthington National Bank in Fort Worth. Goodrich is a veteran and a member of the advisory board for Liberty House.

According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients, 23 percent of all homeless people in America are veterans, and 89 percent of those were honorably discharged.

“They served their time and now they’re homeless,” Goodrich said. “The idea of Liberty House is to get them to reconnect back to the community and their families.”

Liberty House Transitional Housing Program differs slightly from MHMRTC’s other adult residential treatment programs, which include the 50-bed Pine Street rehabilitation facility and the 12-bed Billy Gregory Detoxification unit. There also is the Directions Home case management program provided by the city of Fort Worth and the veterans’ transitional housing program at the nonprofit Presbyterian Night Shelter, located next door to Liberty House.

The focus of the new program will be on addiction and sobriety, said Deirdre Browne, Liberty House program manager. Liberty House will give homeless veterans with chemical dependency, as well post traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related diagnoses, full access to all programs at MHMRTC. The program, expected to serve about 55-75 men and women each year, will offer vets supportive services leading them to recovery, residential stability, independence, employment and reintegration into the community.

“We’d like to provide more enriched services for the people who are here than the VA can provide,” Hatley said. “Our emphasis will be on getting them clean and sober and then helping them find a job and permanent housing. We’ll help give them opportunities to go to college and provide them other resources that will help them return to the community.”

Construction on the two-story, 7,500-square-foot veterans’ facility of Fort Worth apartments began in August 2009 after MHMRTC’s Addiction Services Division received a capital grant award from the VA totaling $600,000. The local agency was the only MHMR organization in Texas to receive the grant last year, Hatley said. Addiction Services matched the VA grant with an additional $300,000 to cover bricks and mortar construction costs that renovated and expanded an existing building into the transitional housing center.

The Architects Barnes/Associates Inc. of Fort Worth was the project architect. General contractor was Fort Worth-based RJM Contractors Inc.

Clients will live in a dormitory style atmosphere, two people to a room. Amenities include a kitchenette, a larger kitchen and dining room currently shared with clients of Presbyterian Night Shelter, a laundry room, separate showers for men and women and a courtyard. VA offices will be located upstairs.

Future plans call for a library and a computer room to facilitate employment preparation, a workout room and a clothes pantry stocked with donated business attire for the veterans’ job interviews.

“This will give opportunities for volunteers to come in and help the veterans develop resumes, coach for job interviews, teach them how to dress for interviews and help them with up-to-date computer skills,” Hatley said.

Because the VA capital grant did not provide for furnishings, Visions launched a fund-raising effort to furnish the interior spaces and make necessary renovations. All the bedrooms are complete, with several rooms sponsored by local businesses and individuals. Sofas, chairs, tables, a big screen TV and a piano have been donated. A quilting group from Richland Hills Church of Christ donated 30 handmade quilts for the beds. Lending some added decoration and a touch of home will be Fort Worth artist Nancy Lamb, who will paint panels of veterans through the ages. The paintings will be available for sponsorships, Hatley said.

Hatley estimates about $31,000 is needed to finish the kitchen renovation and purchase new appliances and utensils. The Fort Worth Airpower Foundation recently presented Liberty House with a check for $15,000 toward the kitchen makeover.

A grand opening and flag-raising ceremony is planned for Liberty House in late March, when the first homeless veterans are expected to have filled the housing unit. The Veterans Administration will determine the eligibility of individuals who apply for residency.

“These are the vets who are chronically homeless. When they come off the streets they need the time to adjust and become sober. They need to lose the bad habits they picked up on the streets,” Browne said. “Our goal is to create supportive good habits that will help them be successful.”

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