Welcome home moves into new veterans shelter facility

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COLUMBIA - After a July grand opening, Welcome Home was able to move veterans into its new facility on Tuesday afternoon. The veterans shelter offers transitional and emergency housing and rapid re-housing for homeless veterans, as well as other services.

With volunteers from multiple organizations, Welcome Home made the full transition from its old facility, which held 10 to 12 vets at a time, to the new facility, which can hold up to 34 veterans and their families.

Welcome Home board member Joseph Blanton, and Army veteran, has been a part of the process since 2014, when plans were set in motion for a new facility. He said veterans and staff alike have been looking forward to this day.

“We’re finally transitioning, moving all of our programs and all of our veterans over here,” Blanton said. “The veterans are moving in today, we’ve got all of our clinical staff moving in as well, so this is our first big step in our new facility. I’ve had the opportunity to be here since the beginning stages, so it’s great to see that idea come to fruition.”

The new $3.2 million facility, located at 2120 Business Loop 70 E., will accommodate both male and female veterans, unlike Welcome Home’s last shelter, which only held males. The housing shelter can also now accommodate veterans in wheelchairs.

The new location is on the Columbia Veterans Campus adjacent to Patriot Place, a 24-bed apartment facility that provides free and permanent housing to veterans through the Columbia Housing Authority.

The Columbia Veterans Campus is a partnership between Welcome Home, Patriot Place (Columbia Housing Authority), and the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital.  Phase I of the combined effort resulted in the building of Patriot Place. Phase II created a facility for Welcome Home to better provide its services.

One in five homeless people in Columbia are veterans and at least 85 percent of homeless veterans are diagnosed with a mental illness, according to Welcome Home.

Megan Sievers, Welcome Home’s development director, said veteran homelessness in Columbia needs to be addressed. While Welcome Home housed 124 individual veterans in 2016, Sievers said, it also had to find other ways to get veterans housed that it could not accommodate due to space limitations.

“We do find that veterans, they thrive in an environment that is very camaraderie-driven, where you’re with other veterans, you are among veterans who know where you’ve been, have a very similar story to you,” Sievers said. “It’s important for us to be able to provide not only the environment for them, but the tools and resources necessary in order to find a time and ability to find an independent living situation.”

The facility has a commercial kitchen, community space, computer lounge, laundry room and more to give veterans a better experience. Sievers said the larger living space will make a big difference.

“Right now, in our old facility, it is very tight quarters,” she said. “The kitchen is very small, there’s not a whole lot of personal space. So, for the veterans now, they’re coming into a home that is very open and airy, but they also have their own personal space to hang their clothes, lay their heads, have a nice warm shower, and they’re not necessarily tripping all over each other.”

Blanton said the privacy the new space allows will go a long way toward helping veterans find independent housing of their own.

“Having that privacy, allowing them what any other person would want in home, allowing them to have that, that’s a first step towards getting them back on the road and getting them housed,” he said. “It helps them build their own confidence, self efficacy, those types of things.”

A group of Vietnam veterans, disturbed by the number of vets living on the streets, formed Welcome Home in 1992 after pooling resources to purchase a shelter. Last year, Welcome Home had an 80 percent success rate of moving vets off the streets and into permanent housing within 90 days.