Last year at this time, Veteran Al Kelly was living on the streets – homeless and on the edge of falling off society’s map.
It was at that same time that he got hit by a car and severely injured.
He decided he would go to a shelter to recover, and landed at Pine Street Inn.
That’s when he got a piece of good advice, advice that pointed him to the Veterans Administration and their numerous housing programs aimed to end homelessness among veterans. In fact, the VA is currently targeting homeless veterans with a goal of ending homelessness in their ranks by 2015.
In Chelsea, a piece of that plan is playing out at the old American Legion Post – the oldest Post in the state. The Post has been abandoned since 2010, though, and a new plan is calling for 10 units of housing and support services to be located there for homeless veterans.
Kelly told a crowd at the announcement of the facility in Chelsea just such a home in Dorchester helped re-direct his life and get him back on the right path.
“They had me in housing by June of this year,” he said. “Any vet who is homeless regardless of the issue – even with substance abuse – should take advantage of this. They have housing and programs to help. Even if you relapse, they’ll help you. They’re not going to toss you to the curb. They’ll find the resources to get you the help you need. I encourage all veterans to get off the streets and get to the VA.”
The project will be built and run through a collaboration of The Neighborhood Developers (TND) and Pine Street Inn. A third collaborator will be TND’s CONNECT program – a financial literacy and job training program that will provide services to the veterans living in the new home – which has been dubbed the North Bellingham Veterans Home.
“Our redevelopment plan honors the history of the Chelsea American Legion Hall as a meeting place for veterans,” said TND’s Executive Director Ann Houston.
Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash said the new development is the confluence of several people thinking alike. He said last year they were beginning to talk about redeveloping the downtown area, and a number of people approached him to pitch a plan to help veterans. Those people included TND, City Planners, and City Councillors.
“Everyone at the same time had the same idea,” said Ash. “Staff members, people in our Planning Department, city councillors and then Ann of TND – they all were thinking about trying to do something for veterans in the downtown area. We thought that there was no better place than the Post for this, and everybody just came together.”
A little over seven months have passed since the state embarked on a plan to end homelessness among veterans in Massachusetts by 2015. This ambitious policy has resulted in multiple projects around the state that aim to create new, permanently affordable housing, to increase social services, and to support veterans in search of employment.
The Chelsea project will make a small, but meaningful, dent in that goal.
TND acquired the property last year and plans a complete makeover of Chelsea’s historic Hall to create 10 studio apartments, nine to provide permanent supportive housing with preference given to homeless veterans, and one for a live-in house manager. While currently underutilized, the site will become one of the focal points in the redevelopment of the Bellingham Square area where Chelsea’s City Hall is located.
TND recruited Pine Street Inn, New England’s leading provider of housing, shelter, job training and street outreach to homeless men and women as a service provider partner on the project. The two organizations are collaborating to introduce an effective model of housing formerly homeless veterans by combining permanently affordable housing, job training skills as well as live-in support from experienced Pine Street Inn staff.
“Pine Street Inn looks forward to working with veterans and the community as we provide services that will enable homeless veterans to get back on their feet,” said Lyndia Downie, President of Pine Street Inn. “We want to ensure that those who have served their country receive the support they need,” she added.
On any given day in the US, nearly 1.5 million veterans are at “imminent risk” of becoming homeless, according to a 2012 report by the Center for American Progress. In Massachusetts alone, nearly 1 in 10 (1 in 7 nationally) of the homeless population is comprised of veterans of the Armed Forces. . Francisco Toro, Chelsea Veterans Agent, explained that the issue of housing of homeless veterans should always include clinical staff to oversee the case management and transition of the veterans back into society. A key strength of the North Bellingham Veterans Home is that it meets both the housing and service needs of homeless veterans.