January 16, 2019As possible plans for a regional veterans housing facility in the former English Elementary School building have become public, several concerns have been raised among community members. Organizers, however, hope that more information will alleviate any worries.
"We are going to be very selective about who we bring into this facility because we don't want to bring the homeless veteran who wants to come and just live there and not do anything to help with their recovery. That's not what this is about," Desley Snyder, president of the Southern Indiana Veteran Living and Rehabilitation Center, said.
"It's bringing in veterans who have fallen on hard times and need help getting back on their feet, whether that be spiritually, whether it's they just need help finding a job, whatever that entails."
Not only would that include veterans physically living on the streets, but those who are bouncing from place to place or living in dilapidated housing, Snyder said.
"We've got a couple in Harrison County that they're living in a house trailer that should be condemned. There's problems with the roof, there's problems with the heating, the air conditioning. Nobody should be living like that, especially one of our veterans," said Snyder, who formerly was the veterans service officer in Harrison County and now is the Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs Southwest VSO.
Crawford County District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius, who has been supportive of the project, said those staying at the facility would be thoroughly vetted.
"It would be detrimental to the program and we'd be wasting our time if we were going to let anybody come in there and not have oversight and have it managed. That's not going to happen. We're not going to jeopardize the program because of some people like that," he said.
Veterans living at the facility would be expected to pay rent, if able to do so.
"These people, if they can't contribute financially, they're going to be out there mowing grass or something," Crawford County VSO and SIVLRC vice president Jim Fraze said. "Our goal is to get them back into society."
To help them get back on their feet, each veteran would have a program tailored specifically to them that must complete.
"Within a month, you're going to need to achieve this. Within two months, you're going to need to have achieved another step," Snyder explained. "If they're not going to do it and they don't take it seriously, then I'm sorry, but you're gone. We don't have time to mess with people who don't want to help themselves."
Snyder said Indiana WorkOne officials already have committed to coming to the facility on a regular basis to "help these veterans get put back into society in career-type fields, where they have advancement, where they can get pay raises and move on up the ladder."
Fortunately, Snyder added, there are several manufacturing facilities in the region that could be potential matches for employment.
Crecelius noted that veterans, because of their time in the military, often already possess the structure and discipline needed to be quality employees.
Fraze said he and other veteran service officers from the six counties would be helping veterans at the facility get the information needed to receive the services and benefits for which they are eligible. Part of the problem with not having a permanent address is there is no place for the government to send benefit checks, meaning homeless veterans do not receive what rightly is theirs, he said.
While it seems the majority of community comments have centered on male veterans, Snyder said the facility would also serve homeless female veterans and veterans with families.
"We realize there are going to be some family units in there. How many I don't know," she said.
If the SIVLRC is given the former English Elementary School, the facility, at 46,250 square feet, is large enough to have specific wings for male, female and family tenants.
Fraze said the length of stay for each resident would depend on their progress.
"We don't want to push anybody out before they're ready," he said.
Snyder anticipated temporary residents staying no more than a year or so. The facility, however, also would house a select number permanent residents, she said.
"When we think of permanent residents, we think of maybe an older veteran who is living in dilapidated housing or possibly on the street that just needs someplace to come and live their life out," she said. "They're probably past the age of working, they may have some Social Security or something coming in, but as long as they can medically take care of themselves, if they can get up, get around and take care of themselves, then they can live there."
Fraze added that the facility would not cost taxpayers — either those in Crawford County where the facility would be located or in the five other counties (Harrison, Washington, Orange, Dubois and Perry) that would be served by the organization — anything.
"We don't want the government involved because of the restrictions," he said, noting that receiving local, federal or state money only would slow things down, including how quickly persons in need could be admitted. "We don't want the government telling us what to do on this."
Snyder, however, added that donations from the six counties served would be appreciated. For instance, Orange County already has pledged beds and sheets, she said.
"That's not to say that we won't accept help from the counties, and, ideally, we do want some buy-in," she said. "We want a person from each county on the board. They need to know what's going on, if we're planning to serve their county."
While the primary goal is to reach those in need in those six counties, it doesn't mean that, if space were available, someone in need from across the Ohio River or from Indianapolis wouldn't be accepted, Fraze said. He explained that it just makes sense to help someone, regardless of where they are from, if possible.
Fraze added that concerns that the facility would put a strain on local medical clinics are unfounded, noting the veterans would be eligible for treatment at the Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville.
"We have a V.A. van sitting right up behind the courthouse that goes to the V.A. hospital twice a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays — so anyone that had to go to the hospital, it's there. It's already in place," he said.
Crecelius added that counseling and medical needs also would be addressed via telecommunications, with Snyder added that the V.A. is relying more on high-speed internet-based services.
For those that say the old English Elementary School, if the Crawford County Community School Corp. divests itself of the facility, should be turned into a business, Crecelius added that economic development is more than just job growth.
"A lot of people think of economic development as factories and that sort of thing, but that's not all of economic development," he said. "Economic development is things like this. It's housing, it's getting more of a tax base to where people can pay less taxes, and this certainly will, in my thought, be a prime example of economic development."
Regarding a time frame for the facility, that depends on a couple of factors, including if the old English Elementary School does, in fact, end up being donated to the SILVRC by the Crawford County Community School Corp. The full board of trustees just last month learned of the possibility. The board's regular monthly meeting was last night, after press time for this week's issue of the newspaper.
Another factor is how quickly the SILVRC can raise seed money. To help speed things up, the SILVRC, while a separate entity, will fall under the umbrella of the non-profit Crawford County Indiana Veterans Memorial Association.
"This facility, this isn't something that we're going to rush and put together quickly," Snyder said. "It's going to be done right. We're not inventing the wheel here. We know that. But what we're hoping to do is really improve upon the wheel and do something different that the rest of the state and the nation will copy, with a holistic approach."
Fraze, however, is confident that the money will be there and that the facility will be up and running by this time next year.
"It would be my hope we could get them in there before the snow flies next year at least before they have to worry about another winter on the street or in a dilapidated building," he said.
If the old English Elementary School doesn't work out, the SILVRC will continue looking for a facility or ground to house the veterans.
Fraze invited anyone with concerns to attend one of the SILVRC's meetings, which occur every other Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the conference room at the Harrison County Government Center in Corydon. The next meeting is today.
Snyder said those with questions also may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, Fraze at email@example.com or Harrison County VSO Tara Avis at firstname.lastname@example.org.