In 2009, when veterans' homelessness was becoming a national embarrassment, five houses owned by the state sat empty across from the State Veterans Home & Hospital in Rocky Hill. The houses were once used by staff.
The Courant asked state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda S. Schwartz if the West Street houses — four one-story ranches and a two-story colonial — could be used by veterans. She was already working on a proposal. With a mix of public and private support, the houses were renovated and furnished in late 2010.
The thought was to make them available to unmarried Connecticut vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, dozens of troops surveyed while still oversees said they needed housing. Ms. Schwartz signed a memorandum of understanding with the state adjutant general giving these vets priority for the housing.
But as WTNH News 8 recently reported, the five houses with a total of 15 bedrooms have largely been empty in the past few years. Residency in the homes reached eight people in 2011, according to reports, but dropped off in 2012, fluctuating between one and six into 2013.
In his State of the State speech Thursday, Gov. Dannel Malloy said the state had 500 homeless veterans. If that is so, why couldn't Ms. Schwartz fill 15 beds in Rocky Hill? She said the strict rules — no drinking and no overnight guests — were a factor. Some vets had health or transportation issues. "We had some good successes, but not the utilization we hoped for," she said.
In any event, it is time for Plan B. The new plan is to allow vets and their families to stay for up to two years, with supportive services, so the vets can receive education or training for a job and start on the path to permanent housing.
Since there are waiting lists at other residential facilities for veterans with families, this idea holds promise.
As Gov. Malloy said, 500 homeless veterans is unacceptable. But providing a home for them may not be as easy as it might seem. Veterans with families interest in applying for the housing should call 860-616-3603.