English Elementary site of veterans housing plan
A veterans housing facility in English is on the fast track after veterans service officials and others interested in the wellbeing of area veterans ‘ specifically the homeless ‘ met last Wednesday at the Government Center in south Corydon.
‘Since before I became the veterans service officer of Harrison County, I wanted to have a veterans homeless-type facility or something like that because we need it,’ Desley Snyder, Indiana Dept. of Veteran Affairs Southwest VSO and former Harrison County VSO, said. ‘As veterans service officer, I had homeless veterans come in, either at risk for becoming homeless or homeless, and I had nowhere to put them. Nowhere.’
Snyder met with Crawford County VSO Jim Fraze and Crawford County Commissioner Dan Crecelius, advocates of the plan, and the ball started to roll from there.
Crecelius and Fraze visited the Crawford County Community School Corp. board to make their case for the former English Elementary School building.
The board would like to get out from under the facility and its utility costs, according to Fraze.
Fraze and Crecelius said they understood the board would gift the building to the veterans’ organization at no cost.
The group toured the English facility last Wednesday morning.
‘It would be a wonderful place to have what we’re talking about doing here,’ Snyder said.
The plan for the facility, which will evolve over time once a board of directors is established, will include permanent housing, family units, transitional housing with basic job-training skills, mentoring and possibly some type of manufacturing.
Crecelius, a veteran himself, said it makes sense to try to use the old school facility.
‘There’s something wrong with this picture; we’ve got a building here that’s heated and the facilities work, and we’ve got veterans sleeping on the streets in Louisville,’ he said. ‘It’s a shame we can’t utilize the two to compliment each other and get this problem solved.’
Snyder said she thought homeless and veterans in need would ‘come out of the woodwork’ to be a part of the facility.
The veterans housing program would serve Harrison, Crawford, Washington, Orange, Dubois and Perry counties.
While the building is in good form, significant remodeling would have to take place to make it into living quarters. Snyder said some of the large rooms could be divided into two and possibly three units.
Some questions arose about the building being in the flood plain. Fraze and Crecelius said they were almost certain it was not in the flood plain and is not in an area that floods regularly.
The old town of English moved to higher land after a 100-year flood in 1977.
Issues with the sprinkler system and wheelchair ramp would also have to be corrected.
Crecelius also made plans to have a representative from the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office tour the building, and English Town Council members also took part in last week’s tour.
Joe Devitto, Indiana Dept. of Veteran Affairs Southeast VSO, said they need to find ways to fund-raise for yearly costs, not just the initial project. And, a needs assessment of veterans should be recorded.
‘Crawford County is a poor county, but we raise a lot of money around there,’ Fraze said. ‘That veterans memorial, with the work we got for free and what we put into it, was almost a quarter of a million dollars. Those people around there give; that’s just the way it is.’
He said businesses are eager to help when it involves veterans.
Tara Avis, Harrison County VSO, said she has so many veterans ask about the project and when it is going to get going.
‘The word is out,’ Snyder said. ‘I don’t think we’ll have room for them all.’
The next step will be to set up a meeting with those interested individuals to create a board of directors.
Those expressing interest included Harrison County Commissioner Charlie Crawford, District 74 State Rep. Steve Bartels (R-Eckerty), Phil Williams, Crawford County Economic Development Director Michael Thissen, Avis, Fraze, Snyder, Crecelius and others.
Snyder said she hopes to meet every two weeks to ‘keep the momentum going.’
The group will seek funding from all sorts of avenues at the federal, state and local level of governments, as well private businesses.
The school building’s gymnasium is in good shape and could provide an excellent space for fundraising, Snyder said.
The project could go hand-in-hand with the recently initiated Veterans Court in Harrison and Washington counties.
The court allows veterans who have been charged with a crime to enter into a program that will help them become productive members of society. And if the program is fully completed through graduation, the individual will receive a significantly reduced or mitigated agreement and can enter the program from the other side, as a mentor or another role.
Fraze also hopes the site, which includes five acres, could eventually include a veterans cemetery.
The original idea was for a tiny house community for veterans, and Snyder said that could still be a part of this project down the road.
‘It’s an outstanding opportunity,’ she said of the overall project. ‘It kind of makes it seem meant to be. We have to do it.’