Sen. Claire McCaskill visits Patriot Place apartments for veterans

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COLUMBIA — The Patriot Place apartments in Columbia have provided housing for homeless veterans for several months now. 

The apartment complex is home to 25 war veterans who were previously homeless and needed a place to live. The project began in 2014 and was completed in April 2016. It was a joint effort between The Columbia Housing Authority, Welcome Home Inc. and Harry S. Truman Memorial Veteran’s Hospital.

Herbert Hepler is a Vietnam War veteran who served for six years, stationed in Germany from 1973 to 1979. He moved in to Patriot Place when it opened. He said he had a hard time adjusting to being back in the United States after his time in the military.

To Hepler, it is the first place he's felt "finally at home."

"It makes me feel like I'm a part of something. It makes me feel like I'm a human being again, you know?"

Hepler also said Columbia is one of the first places he's felt welcomed as a veteran.

"I'm happy to be a part of the Columbia community," Hepler said.

According to the Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus, Patriot Place is completely full with veterans and the waiting list has about 70 people on it. He said due to the funding they received, every apartment was able to be fully furnished for the veterans to move in to.

"I was joking with someone the other day, all they needed was a toothbrush, but we actually furnished the toothbrush too," said Steinhaus.

Steinhaus also said the apartments have helped the overall veteran homeless population in Boone County, but it is still an issue because there is a shortage of available single-apartment living spaces that are affordable.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, paid a visit to Patriot Place Monday to tour the homes. McCaskill is the daughter of a WWII veteran and has been involved in efforts to reduce veteran homelessness. She said the Patriot Place program exemplifies how government resources are supposed to work.

"This is a good example of doing things right. It's not just providing a home for these veterans, it's saying what we should be saying to everybody. That is, 'We're going to take care of you because you took care of us," McCaskill said.

McCaskill asked Francis "Sonny" Brown, another resident at Patriot Place, what the hardest part about living there is for him.

"Everything is hard," Brown said. "But I'm proud to be doing it and I'm happy to be doing it."

Sonny, Herbert and all of the other residents at Patriot Place will soon have more resources. Just across the parking lot, a new welcome center is being built. The Patriot Place apartments are the first phase of a larger, 4-acre campus that will include a 29-bed shelter for homeless veterans and a support center as well.