A plan to provide 32 units of supportive housing for homeless veterans could clear one of its last remaining hurdles when a property review goes to the common council for approval Nov. 6.
City officials are seeking the council’s approval to transfer the Mary Shepherd Home at 112 Bow Lane to New Haven-based Columbus House, which would turn the building into 26 one-bedroom apartments and six studios for chronically homeless veterans.
The Mary Shepherd Home was built in 1924 as a dormitory for nurses at Connecticut Valley Hospital. It is currently owned by the state, and was used for about 25 years as a homeless shelter by Mercy Supportive Housing until it was closed in 2013.
The new plan will bring in on-site support from St. Vincent de Paul Middletown, giving homeless veterans a foundation in the community.
Mayor Daniel Drew started pursuing the project in 2014 with a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy requesting help in transferring the property to the city so it could look for a supportive housing provider.
A bill passed last year allows the city to take over the property so it can then convey it to Columbus House. The bill requires the property to be used to provide supportive housing to veterans, otherwise it will revert back to state ownership.
City and state officials have touted the success in Connecticut at reducing chronic homelessness and offering interventions for people who do become homeless.
“Our sense in the community is that veterans are still an underserved population,” said city General Counsel Brig Smith. “This project is unique. Mayor Drew’s preference is to pursue scattered-site supportive housing, but when you have a population that needs support and a facility like this becomes available, if you have a chance to grab the brass ring you do it.”
The city chose the plan from Columbus House after seeking bids last year. Smith said a tenant selection plan in the agreement ensures that veterans will be a priority.
The $6.5 million proposal relies on $3.4 million from the State Bond Commission, tax credits and historic preservation funding.
Columbus House CEO Alison Cunningham said tenants will pay 30 percent of the income as rent, and the agency is working with the Middletown Housing Authority on funding for the remaining costs.
“We see about 300 veterans a year in one of our programs for veterans who need services, so it’s clear there are plenty of folks in need out there,” Cunningham said. “I believe as soon as we open the door, we’ll be full.”
With the ongoing state budget negotiations it’s not clear when the State Bond Commission would meet to consider funding for projects, but Columbus House Chief Real Estate Officer Carl Rodenhizer said once funding is approved the Middletown project is “shovel ready.”
Construction will take about a year, and will save as many historical components of the building as possible. The grand white pillars in the front of the building, two porches on the ends of the building and interior features will remain, he said.
The Shepherd Home will offer structured and informal services for its residents. Case managers will connect veterans with services for veterans, addiction help or employment assistance.
“This is a way for us to reach out and honor the veterans who may have experienced homelessness,” Rodenhizer said during a recent tour of the building. “The goal here is to provide an opportunity for people to get connected with their community and not be isolated within their apartment.”
St. Vincent de Paul Middletown Director Ron Krom said his agency will replicate programs in use for more than 20 years at Liberty Commons, which has four case managers working with 40 residents on site.
“There’s a huge need right now. The biggest gap in our system is housing,” Krom said. “This would add 32 units of nice housing and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
He said housing is the most important factor in someone getting the assistance they need. Once they have a stable place to live, they can work on substance abuse treatment and finding a job or transportation, he said.
“The housing piece provides the stability from which people can make some changes in their lives,” Krom said. “Without housing it’s hard to even think about other issues.”