Plan to house homeless veterans moves forward

By: Hope Jensen Email
By: Hope Jensen Email

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, Aug. 26, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- A project to house homeless veterans has been in the works for almost four years, but it might finally be moving forward.

It's called Freedom's Path and has been behind schedule because of funding and zoning issues, but they are hoping to being construction this fall.

Georgia has hundreds of homeless veterans on the streets every day, and Alan Powell is one of them.

He spends his days working at the Augusta Rescue Mission. Lately, he's been spending his nights there, too, which is a big change from the last 15 years.

"I had experiences sleeping outside, staying over at some friends' houses, living in my car," Powell said.

He is a homeless veteran and says, "It's easy to get into, but it's hard to get out of."

He's just one of hundreds who roam the streets every day.

"When someone's homeless, it doesn't mean that they just don't have a roof over their head, it means that there's a lot of other things going on," said Karen Saltzman, executive director of Hope House.

Saltzman has been working on the Freedom's Path project for almost four years.

"It'll provide housing, meals, job skills, transportation and a place for these guys to get well and get back on their feet," Saltzman said.

The plan is to redevelop three buildings at the Charlie Norwood VA into transitional housing for 98 veterans.

Buildings 7, 76 and 18 are all historical buildings built in the early to mid-1900s and will take a lot of work to renovate. Building 7 will take around 13 months, and the other two could take between 14 and 18 months once construction begins.

"This is a great opportunity for our state to give back a little bit to folks who have given a lot," Saltzman said.

It was originally supposed to be completed in 2011, but the $18 million project has had a lot of delays.

"These guys never gave up on us, and we're not gonna give up on them," she said.

Now they're facing just one final funding hurdle.

"I don't want to see our veterans sleep on the street again for another winter," Saltzman said.

Veterans like Powell who just needed another chance.

"The VA hospital has helped me in the past, and this place is doing a tremendous job of helping me now, and I plan to take full advantage of it," said Powell.

They have applied for a grant for the Department of Community Affairs for the last 33 percent of the funding. That's about $6 million. They say construction will begin as soon as that comes through. They are still hoping for this fall, but it will all depend on that grant.

But not everyone is excited about the project. When they originally announced the plan, some didn't like the thought of a transitional center in their neighborhood. They were worried about a number of things like safety and property values.

The last number received for the amount of homeless veterans in Augusta was 16 people.

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