no spam, unsubscribe anytime.
In my last article, "Stand Down: Helping Our Homeless Veterans", about the annual "Stand Down" held in San Diego and sponsored by The Veterans Village of San Diego, I mentioned that the VA was dedicating a billion dollars to end homelessness among our veterans. Since writing that article, I found out about a very exciting effort to provide affordable housing to formerly homeless veterans that I'd like to share with you here.
I learned about the program by the non-profit Soldier On and its president, Jack Downing, through an article written by Sally Abrahms in the July-August edition of the AARP Bulletin Magazine. The article included a picture of a bright, colorful, clean, well kept, community of modern homes. The yards are well manicured and the place looks just like a typical, attractive, newly buil t suburban community.
This project is located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, but the article says that there are others like this one being built in other localities as well. According to the AARP article, this project was built to house formerly homeless veterans at a cost of $6.1 million with a combination of federal, local, and private foundation money. More importantly, it is debt free. The U.S. Department of Housing and Human Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs subsidize this unique housing effort, called the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community.
The way this project is structured at every stage is, to my mind, a model for how to both care for those who have temporarily gotten lost on the road of life, and how to empower them to make themselves into the persons they were meant to be. This program is about freedom. It is not another bureaucratic, social do-gooder kind of program that makes people dependent on the help it provides; rather it empowers the veterans involved to become free, self possessed, human beings.
The most important thing is that these veterans are given the opportunity to own their own permanent home, to have a real address. This, of course, makes it possible to have a job too. You can't get work without an address.
According to the AARP article, these veterans pay anywhere between $580 and $682 for rent. But here is the unique part of the deal, they also pay $2,500 to buy a limited-equity ownership in the development. They share then in the success and maintenance of the community mutually. If a veteran is unable to cover this down-payment, local banks will give them loans at no interest, or they will give outright donations to Soldier On. If they move, Soldier On, the organization that sponsors the project, will buy back their share for $2,500.
For the first time in years, these veterans find not just another temporary shelter, but a real home in which they have a real stake. The veterans living in the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community have jobs and the dignity that comes from being able to support oneself. To have a place that you can really call your own is priceless. Medical, mental health, and job training services are made available to the veterans in the community as well. The veterans can even get one-on-one financial advice on how to manage their money from volunteers from the banking community, often in their own homes.
The veterans interviewed for the AARP article are all living successful, productive lives and are happier about themselves and their prospects in life than they have been in a long time. One of the veterans is quoted in the article saying, "There is freedom here and, at the same time, there is discipline." That recognition of the relationship between freedom and self-discipline, and making the choice to live within that balanced relationship, is the most important attribute that a responsible member of society possesses.
I am very impressed by this project. The causes of homelessness are many, not the least of which are drug and alcohol addictions, but the solutions can be as simple and as effective as this very coordinated effort at the Gordon H. Mansfield Community sponsored by the non-profit Soldier On organization. This unique community also enjoys the support and encouragement of so many different elements of the public and private sectors of our society. If you are interested in the Mansfield Community you can go to aarp.org/vets to see a video about it.
It seems to me that this kind of program could work not just for veterans, but for a great many of the other homeless among us. It would be great to see something like this project happening in all of our major cities and towns.