Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Facility for homeless vets wins $75G award

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff

Legion Woods Apartments, a $3 million supportive housing project for chronically homeless veterans, recently won a $75,000 national award for its innovative work from the Fannie Mae Foundation and the Partnership to End Long Term Homelessness.
Connection Fund rehabilitated and attached two formerly blighted buildings, home to an abandoned bar, at 456 Legion Ave., where it intersects with Winthrop Avenue. The agency gutted the buildings and installed 20, one-bedroom apartments. Legion Hill opened in 2006 and houses 13 veterans among its residents. Before and after photos above show the difference.
“Finding a place of my own had become the focal point of my whole existence. Finally, Legion Woods opened up and rescued me,” said John Watts,cq a B-52 technician for the Air Force from 1968 to 1976. He left his home in 1992 to live with relatives and has lived in homeless shelters since 1998.
“I enjoy my privacy and independence. This is home now,” Watts said.
“It’s nice to walk in the door and it’s nice and quiet,” said Leland Hatt, cq53, who served in the Navy from 1973 to 1977. He said he had never been homeless, but left his home and job to get treated for depression.
“I came to save myself,” he said.
The supportive aspect of Legion Woods includes two full-time social workers who help residents retain mental health services, find jobs, financial planning and money management, as well as how to improve their relationships. Legion Woods also occasionally arranges social activities for residents, outings, a neighborhood block watch, picnics, a tenants’ association and a community garden.
“There is no problem I can’t take to my case worker,” Watts said.
The Connection Fund, an affiliate of the nonprofit Connection in Middletown, developed and runs services in Legion Woods. The agency is the state’s largest supportive housing provider.
The Fannie Mae Foundation and Partnership to End Long Term Homelessness formally presented the Connection Fund the Maxwell Award of Excellence late last month.
“The Fannie Mae Foundation commends the Connection Fund for their outstanding efforts to prevent and end homelessness. The Connection Fund is a true leader in the field of supportive housing for homeless veterans and we are pleased to honor them,” said Peter Beard, executive director of the Fannie Mae Foundation, in a prepared statement.
Legion Woods Apartments was five years in the planning, said Jim O’Rourke, Legion Woods project manager for Connection Fund.
“Mayor (John) DeStefano helped a lot. He used to drive by the two blighted buildings every day to work. He helped us acquire the buildings,” O’Rourke said.
“The tenants’ association is important because it gives them some ownership over their home,” O’Rourke said.
“The Connection’s mission is to build safe, healthy, caring communities and at Legion Woods we really accomplished that and we’re really proud of it,” O’Rourke added.
The project received the bulk of its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the state Department of Economic Development and the city Livable City Initiative.

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