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New VA facility provides home to homeless veterans

SALT LAKE CITY — Ten homeless veterans moved into their new home this week with the grand opening of the Valor House on the Veterans Medical Center campus.

“When I came in, I was met with kindness, warmth, a courteous attitude and a feeling of concern,” said Herbert Lilly, one of the new residents. “I felt comfortable being here and am able to get a new start.”

Valor House, a joint venture between the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City and the VA, provides transitional housing, clinical treatment and educational opportunities to homeless veterans of all ages, and is the first joint project of its kind in the country.

From the time it opened its doors Wednesday, the state-of-the-art, LEED certified 72-unit home has already welcomed 10 veterans.

“We found out we could open our doors at 10 a.m., and by 1 p.m. we were moving our first veterans in,” said Jeanette Hurst, senior property manager of the Valor House.

Lilly, who served in the United States Marine Corps, said he has been anticipating this week ever since construction began.

“When things have been difficult for you and you’re struggling out there, sometimes you can think nobody cares,” Lilly said. “But now I’m basically off the streets and have a foundation to build up on again — I have a home base I can come to.”

“If all you’re trying to do is survive, if that’s all you’re focused on, it’s hard to think about anything else,” said Diana Robinson, director of homeless programs at the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City. “Getting them in a place of comfort, safety and warmth is our goal.”

The facility provides a fully furnished private bedroom, bathroom, refrigerator and pantry to each veteran, with a community kitchen and living space on each wing. Additionally, the facility has a library, industrial kitchen, Wii room, community room and patio.

Each resident is required to pay 30 percent of their monthly income to cover rent, although no eligible veteran will be turned away if they are unemployed.

“A lot of the facilities for the homeless are in rundown areas,” Robinson said. “Coming in here and seeing this facility is such an eye opening experience.”

The building cost $5.4 million to build, through a combination of local, state, and federal funds, private donations and grants. Additionally, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated all of the furniture.

Tim Carr, the clinical coordinator and lead clinician at Valor House, emphasized that the facility is more than just a place to live.

“We’re addressing mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and increasing skill level and income,” Carr said.

The facility has four licensed clinicians on staff providing individual therapy and group programming, but also helps the residents re-enroll in college, find jobs, and learn about nutrition and financial literacy.

Darrell Stage, an Army veteran and computer support specialist, said that after successfully completing the intense First Step House rehabilitation program for alcoholism, he was looking for a place to settle down for a while.

On Wednesday, Valor House called him to tell to come pick up his keys.

“I got a voice mail saying, ‘Hey, come on up! We’re ready for you,’” Stage said. “It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

Stage, who is currently enrolled in Salt Lake Community College to get his A+ certification in computer support, said he feels like the Valor House is a “reboot.”

“It’s first class,” Stage said. “It’s a home (that gives me) the opportunity to go to school or learn a new trade, or just to sit back and take a breath.”

Valor House is seeking donations of DVDs, Wii games, and welcoming baskets, with things like toiletries, towels and slippers for its incoming residents.

Homeless veterans can visit the Road Home Shelter, or call 801-764-5561, ext. 6301 for supportive services.