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Vets will find a home at Victory House

October 03, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently awarded Telemon Corp. $18,850 to help renovate a Martinsburg house that will be used as housing for veterans.

The house at 226 E. Burke St., which will be known as Victory House, will be an 11-bed facility for male veterans out of the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center's rehab program.

VA officials will refer men to the home and ensure that their counseling continues, said Colleen Smith, a transitional family mentor with Telemon.

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If Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings one day can be held at the house, as Smith hopes, it would mean veterans would not have an excuse to miss those meetings.

Empty and boarded up for a few months, the house needs utilities turned back on and some repairs, such as new carpet and paint. Standing on the porch of the home, which is in a historic district, one can see the Roundhouse across the street.

Once the repairs are done, Telemon hopes to open the house in December.

Because the house previously was used for a similar purpose - under a privately owned program called Moving Mountains - it will not need to be rezoned, City Engineer/Planner Mike Covell said.

Funding will determine whether the housing is transitional, meaning veterans could stay there for up to two years, or if it will be operated as a permanent shelter with no time limits on length of stays, Smith said.

Homeless men or those who need transitional housing can only stay for so long at the VA.

Finding affordable housing can be difficult for those trying to get on their feet, Smith said. If the veteran has a criminal record involving substance abuse, he will not qualify for public housing assistance, she said.

"That takes a lot of affordable housing right off their option plate," Smith said. What's left tends to be either too expensive or substandard, she said.

Every week, Smith hears from three or four homeless veterans who need housing.

Many are local, while others sought Martinsburg because it is a new environment that might make staying sober easier, Smith said.

Having the house in town is advantageous.

A veteran who does not have a car or cannot immediately get his driver's license back can use MARC or Martinsburg's public transportation system. Walking to the downtown area is possible.

To help maintain the house, each veteran who stays there must pay a stipend - 30 percent of his gross adjusted income.

"It's a positive change for our veterans. I think it's also good for our community," Smith said.

Most of the veterans are well-educated, well-trained and tend to find skilled jobs that pay more than minimum wage.

"I feel they're very good workers and very sincere," Smith said.

Although Telemon and VA officials frequently will visit the home, it ultimately will be governed by residents with leadership qualities, Smith said.

"The gentlemen that will be staying in the program will be working and will be active in the community," Smith said. "I see it as an enhancement to what's going on downtown.

"This is really a godsend for us."

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