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The new 72-unit Valor House, which will give homeless veterans a place to rebuild their lives on the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs campus, will be ready for residents in about 30 days.
On Wednesday, groups striving to end veteran homelessness by 2015 unveiled the transitional housing facility, which is expected to fill up quickly. Veterans can stay for up to 24 months.
Construction on the $4.5 million Valor House which boasts 12 community kitchens, game and party rooms, a library, and outdoor patio for barbecuing and box gardening began last fall. Several arrays of solar panels will help provide power.
At Wednesday's event, Vietnam veteran Mark Lawson spoke of the challenges veterans face as they re-enter society. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a nuclear weapons specialist.
"For many, ironically, the coming home is the hardest part," Lawson said, noting that family and friends, busy with their own lives, "often can't understand our struggle to heal physically and mentally, simply because they have not walked in our shoes."
Mending a veteran's mind and body is necessary, but not easy. "Sometimes healing hurts, sometimes it takes a long time," Lawson said. "Sometimes it never happens at all."
He said he hopes Valor House can assist veterans with that process for years to come.
Navy veteran Dawn Hemphill, who received help from the VA a year ago, also lauded the new facility. She served stateside for three years in the early 1980 and worked for several years as a mortgage broker. But by 2007 she was in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction while she also struggled with bipolar disorder.
"One possession after another kept going out the door to support this drug habit," Hemphill said.
Dawn and her husband of 24 years, "Doc" Hemphill, eventually lost their home and almost lost each other. A year ago she sought help from the VA.
They didn't let her down.
"When I got here, I felt like the VA health care system wrapped their arms around me . . . tight," Hemphill said. "It's still a process. I'm continuing on my path of recovery." She is now a vet-to-vet case manager.
Susan Angell, executive director for the VA Homeless Veterans Initiative, praised the joint efforts of area nonprofits, the Salt Lake City Housing Authority, state agencies, including the Department of Workforce Services, and the federally-funded VA.
"By bringing together the continuum of care . . . you have created a remarkable collaboration that has produced real results for our nation's heroes," Angell said.
Nationwide, an estimated 2400 units of affordable and secure housing units are being developed, Angell said.
Help for homeless veterans
A national call center is now in operation for homeless veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The VA's message is simple," said Susan Angell, executive director for the VA Homeless Veterans Initiative. "If you're a veteran who is homeless or who is at risk of becoming homeless, we're here for you."
Family and friends of veterans, along with first responders, can also call the hotline to connect with services. The toll-free number is 1-877-424-3838.