Buildings to be renovated to house homeless vets

October 03, 1994|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

Alcoholism, divorce, postwar traumatic stress syndrome. Charles Velois, who spent 26 years in the Navy before retiring, says he knows well the problems that might lead a man or a woman to become one of the estimated 250,000 homeless veterans walking America's streets.

That's why he doesn't oppose plans to transform three vacant buildings across the street from his downtown business into shelters for hundreds of homeless veterans.

"As long as there are no drug addicts hanging around and scaring my customers, I don't mind a shelter," said Mr. Velois, who co-manages Jeppi Nut Co. in the 300 block of N. High St.

The multimillion-dollar plan calls for a broad range of services for homeless veterans -- from an overnight shelter for 100 people to long-term housing for dozens more. The last piece of funding -- a $2 million grant from the Veterans Administration -- was announced Wednesday.

Homeless veterans also would receive job counseling, drug and alcohol treatment and psychiatric help, but would have to live by strict rules -- getting up at 5 each morning and following a "military-type regimen."

"There are a number of overnight accommodations for homeless men, but not as much full-service support. That's what this veterans' shelter will provide," said Joanne Selinske, director of the city homeless services office, which received the VA grant.

There are about 2,000 homeless people in Baltimore each day, including about 300 veterans, she added.

The shelters, in the shadow of the Jones Falls Expressway and near the back of the main post office, are rather isolated from the few nearby businesses. But some workers at the businesses are a bit nervous.

"I'm all for helping people," said Deborah Jones, whose husband runs Uptown Tailors on Gay Street, a half-block from the shelters. "But I'm still a bit leery. I don't want them hanging around and begging. That will chase customers away."

Renovation should begin in about a week, and occupancy should start by December, Ms. Selinske said.

A one-story building will provide both a day shelter, where as many as 100 drop-ins can stay overnight, and an 80-bed emergency shelter, where homeless veterans can stay for up to 28 days. A five-story renovated warehouse will become a transitional shelter where as many as 120 people can stay for up to one year. And a four-story building formerly used as an orphanage will provide long-term, single-room housing for as many as 83 veterans.

The shelters will be run by a veterans group called Maryland Homeless Veterans Inc., Ms. Selinske said.

In addition to the VA grant, which will be used on renovations, the agency had already received $1.4 million in grants from the city, state and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to buy the property. HUD also has awarded the city agency two five-year grants of $7 million each to operate the homeless veterans programs, she said.

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