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Veterans United Home Loans gives major gift to veteran housing project

Three organizations in Columbia are working together to build a new housing facility and shelter for homeless veterans.

It is called, “Welcome Home, A Community for Veterans,” a shared project of the Columbia Housing Authority, Harry S. Truman Memorial Veteran Hospital and Welcome Home, Inc.

The new veteran campus will offer permanent housing, short-term shelter needs and on-site supportive services.

Thursday, its campaign announced a major gift and launched public fundraising efforts. Veterans United Home Loans gave a check of $1 million to get the project underway.

What used to be the Deluxe Inn on Business Loop 70 East will soon go under a complete renovation and include 25 one-bedroom apartments and 29 temporary shelter beds for veterans.

Co-chair of the campaign Richard Mendenhall said there are currently more than 800 homeless veterans in Missouri.

Mayor Bob McDavid said the project will help solve veteran homelessness in Columbia.

“We’re here to commit to all veterans,” McDavid said. “We’re here to eliminate veteran homelessness. And as this sign in front says, we’re here to commit that no veteran will be left behind.”

The current Welcome Home shelter on Business Loop 70 East and Rangeline Street only has enough room to hold about 10 veterans. And it said it has had to turn away about three veterans per week for some time.

Welcome Home, Inc. board president Ross Bridges said the expansion is desperately needed from the old split-level building.

“It’s tough for them to come up and down those stairs,” Bridges said. “Also, we can’t adequately house female veterans. It’s a really crowded shelter. Some of our guys are doubled up in the same tiny little room. Also, we can’t really appropriately deal with if somebody comes in with a family.”

Welcome Home said the estimated cost of the entire project is about $7.5 million. Thursday’s donation from Veterans United puts the first phase of the project, the permanent housing, at more than 90 percent funded and the entire project more than half-way funded.

They also announced Thursday that a committee of Columbia leaders will run fundraising efforts to finish the project.

Sarah Froese with the Truman VA Hospital says the new facility will help place veterans in a home and offer services on-site to help them transition back into society.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of different reasons that make our veterans homeless,” Froese said. “We have people who have mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and it’s difficult for them to transition back into civilian life. VA has always been there to help with those things, but it’s difficult to receive care when you have no place to live and you’re living on the street.”

Bridges said the project still needs about $3 million. The committee hopes to gain enough donations from the community and from federal grants by the end of the year.

The Columbia Housing Authority said it hopes to break ground on the apartments by next spring. And it hopes the project will be completed in one year.

You can find more information about the campaign and a link for donations here.

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