Butner receives federal grant to build veterans housing

jblack@newsobserver.comJune 2, 2014 

— The town has received a $4.2 million grant to fund the first phase of a complex which aims to house homeless and at-risk veterans.

The Veterans Life Center will use the grant to refurbish the first and largest building at the former John Umstead Hospital, which was built as an Army hospital during World War II. “Building 71,” as it is currently known, will hold up to 150 veterans when completed early next year.

The criteria for deciding who will live at the center will follow guidelines used by similar programs in Asheville and San Diego, said John Turner, executive director of Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina-CARES, a veteran-owned nonprofit based in Raleigh.

“Right now we are focused on renovating,” Turner said. “As we get closer to the ribbon-cutting, we will announce the criteria for veterans to live at the center.”

The buildings that will become the Veterans Life Center are now vacant. When all eight buildings are refurbished, the center will be able to hold up to 400 residents.

In addition to providing free room and board, the center will offer professional counseling and wellness services in areas such as substance abuse, mental health, vocational education and mentoring. The first building will create 26 jobs.

Money to operate the first building will come from federal and private grants as well as private donations.

“We’ll be able to tailor services to the need of each specific veteran,” Turner said. “We are building a community of public and private support to better care for North Carolina’s veterans.”

The grant for the first phase came from the Community Development Block Grant program, which is run through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Planning to apply for the grant began in summer 2011, after VLC signed the lease to the buildings from the state.

The cost of developing the rest of the center has not been determined.

“We are doing this in phases, so we know the grant will cover the cost of ‘Building 71,’ ” Turner said. “We can’t predict the costs of other phases as we go forward.”

Ilario Pantano, director of the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs, said the winding down of the war in Afghanistan is forcing people to focus on veterans’ issues.

“The awareness of homeless veterans has raised, and the public has become outraged because of it,” Pantano said. “It’s a state effort that we all have some role in.”

North Carolina has the fourth-largest active-duty military population in the country and has upward of 8,000 homeless veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If we had one it would be too many,” Pantano said. “North Carolina is a magnet for veterans, and we need to make sure we take care of all of them.”

Black: 919-829-4835; Twitter: @j_black13

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