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VA outlines housing proposal for homeless veterans – SC Times

A St. Cloud developer brought a proposal to the public Wednesday to build housing for homeless veterans or veterans at risk of homelessness on property owned by the St. Cloud VA Medical Center.
Proponents said it would be a place for these veterans to transition to independent living in a location that is close to VA medical services and support.
The proposed building will be a homeless-supportive facility of about 37 units. It will be located on about 4 acres of VA land north of Apollo High School and east of the Al Loehr Veterans and Community Studio Apartments.
Sand Companies of Waite Park will finance, design, develop and maintain the facility. Project costs are estimated at about $6 million in addition to ongoing operation and maintenance.
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The VA awarded an enhanced use lease in December 2011 for the property. It is part of an effort to identify and repurpose underutilized VA land and buildings nationwide in support of the VA’s goal to end homelessness among veterans.
“The need we see today is for veterans about to be homeless or getting out of a chemical dependency program,” said Barry Bahl, director of the St. Cloud VA. “We need to find a place for those people to go. … This could give them a housing opportunity.”
Al Loehr Veterans and Community Studio Apartments, built in 2006, was another project created under the same VA program.
The project is part of the national push to end homelessness among veterans. In 2009, then Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki committed to end homelessness among veterans within five years. The plan included expanding housing options and mental health care for veterans, among many other initiatives.
In the most recent Wilder statewide homeless point-in-time study in 2012, done every three years, 580 homeless veterans were counted on the night of the survey in Minnesota. That’s down from 699 in 2009.
Sand Companies hopes to break ground this summer and open the summer of 2016, but that is a rough estimate.
The initial lease in St. Cloud will be for 50 years, with an option to extend for 25 years. When the lease expires, the building will revert to the VA.
Sand Companies, with its main office in Waite Park, owns and operates about 35 multi-family projects, said Jamie Thelen, chief executive officer of Sand Companies.
The building will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
The target population for the facility will be homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness. It will be available to single adults and be drug and alcohol free. It will allow veterans to live very close to their health care facilities. Veterans will have priority placement at the facility and the goal is for 100 percent of the occupants to be veterans.
It will also take into account some factors that may affect a homeless veteran’s ability to rent elsewhere.
“Veterans have special needs. … We have to take certain things into consideration,” said Carrie Pham, project manager for the Office of Asset Enterprise Management. That could include mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, past criminal issues or past unpaid rent.
The proposal includes plans to have frequent bus service from the facility to the VA.
Commenters at the meeting Wednesday were concerned about the involvement of veterans service organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion in the planning the project. They were also concerned about using VA property for a private entity. There were concerns about the potential mixing of veteran and nonveteran residents in the facility.
People can submit comments to David Ruder, chief engineer, St. Cloud VA Medical Center, 4801 Veterans Drive, St. Cloud, MN 56303. Email comments to david.ruder@va.gov.
Follow Stephanie Dickrell on Twitter @SctimesSteph, call her at 255-8749 or find more stories at www.sctimes.com/sdickrell.


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