By Lee Vorderer
By the middle of August, 69 Veterans (men and women) aged 55 and above, many of whom have been homeless for years, will have new homes on Springs Road, across the street from the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital (Bedford VA).
The new residence, Bedford Green, is a project developed by Peabody Properties in collaboration with the Veterans Administration. The doors opened in June, welcoming the first 40 men and women who will call Bedford home.
On July 11, Elizabeth Collins, Senior Project Director of Peabody Properties, and Karen Acerra-Williams, Acting Director of the Bedford VA, held a media open house to tour the new building, and to introduce some of the men and women who now live at this new facility located across the street from the VA’s main campus.
A project timeline
As part of President Obama’s national initiative in 2011 to end homelessness among Veterans, the Veterans Administration issued a Request for Proposals to develop residential units as permanent housing. In November of that year, Bedford VA officials learned that the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital was one of 23 sites chosen nationwide to create permanent residential units for veterans.
In 2013, Peabody Properties, a for-profit company that has developed and manages more that 10,000 units of affordable housing in the northeast, was awarded the contract to develop the housing. In June, 2015, Bedford Green’s cornerstone was laid, although construction began in April, 2015. A Certificate Of Occupancy was awarded on June 15, 2016, and by the middle of August, all 69 residents will be settled into their new homes.
The units at Bedford Green offer supportive housing. Each resident will live independently, but will have access to two social workers who are assigned to the Veterans in the building by the VA. With resources of the VA hospital across the street, medical care is readily available, and with a shuttle service to various locations within Bedford, residents expect to make their own connections with many of Bedford’s social and recreational services.
Each apartment is a furnished, one-bedroom unit that is pre-wired for cable and telephone, with access to wireless Internet. Nine of the units are handicap accessible, and all units have infrastructure to allow for grab bars and other supports so that residents can age in place. Three of the units have access features for those with significant visual and hearing disabilities.
There are laundry facilities on two floors, and there is a gym, common room and large outdoor patio. Each tenant has a renewable, one-year lease.
The building is GOLD LEED certified, meaning that it meets the highest standards for environmental design, materials use, and impact.
How the project evolved
Many agencies and organizations collaborated on the planning and development of Bedford Green. Home Depot gave the project a $500,000 grant as part of its national initiative to homeless Veterans; Citibank and MetLife both provided grant money, and investors received low-income housing tax credits. The vendor responsible for building maintenance, Bill Scherer of Clean Green Solutions, donated green cleaning products to all the residents, and will continue to provide these products.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development provided Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers through its VASH program (a VA program where a case manager (master’s level social worker) is assigned to a Veteran from VA and HUD gives them the Section 8 voucher).
More than 150 Veterans applied to move into the units through the VA; social work staff at the Bedford VA selected 69 to be Bedford Green’s first residents.
The majority of the residents are Vietnam-era veterans; one is a World War II veteran, who celebrated his 90th birthday on the day of the open house.
The target population for Bedford Green was selected because veterans over age 55 have been identified as being at greatest risk for homelessness. They have the highest chronic homelessness (at least 4 episodes of homelessness within a 3-year period), and the highest co-morbidity for illnesses.
Wrap-around services enable residents to work on their own goals, learn new skills, (like cooking, money management), and deal with medical issues whatever those might be.
Additional support to each veteran is provided by the SSVF (Supportive Services to Veterans and Families), a VA grant to nonprofit community partners who then use the funds to help Vets and families in low income and homeless situations.
Meet some of Bedford’s newest residents
Several Bedford Green residents talked about how wonderful it felt to have a home after being homeless.
Jim Bancroft, who was a paramedic for 35 years, said that he felt like the help he gave during that war was now coming around full circle to him – everyone at Bedford VA was so helpful and welcoming. Whatever he needs, there’s someone there to help him get it.
Nancy Plonowski said that she wanted to thank VASH (see above) for its outstanding work, too. She felt at home right away, thanks to the VA staff’s thoughtfulness. In the military, she was a registered nurse and has been homeless for three years. She said she was always used to giving help and never expected to need it. Now she has found that she’s getting back what she gave.
Another new resident, Michael Arrington was homeless in Boston, and wondered about coming to Bedford to live. He was concerned that he knew Boston, and didn’t know anything about what might become his new hometown. He’s found himself thinking that home is now Bedford Green, and he looks forward to making connections with Bedford.
Ron Belliveau, another new Bedford Resident and a Vietnam-era veteran, pointed out that Vietnam vets like himself did not come home to much support in the United States. Bedford Green offers him a place of support, where everyone understands his situation and shares his experiences. “It provides amazing camaraderie.”
Vietnam era Vet Arland Reynolds endorsed this sense of connection, and like the others, offered his thanks to everyone for the wonderful support and welcome that has been provided.
Building community at Bedford Green
While each resident has his or her own personal goals, the overall goal for everyone is community re-integration.
This doesn’t mean leaving Bedford Green but rather it means getting a job, engaging in volunteer work that feels important, or connecting with others in the community of the VA and and its wider community of Bedford.
Wrap-around services are available help support these goals. They comprise a range of supported, structured employment programs to meet the vet where he or she is. The services help develop or refine the skills needed to work, or go to college or training school.
Bedford Green’s resident advisor can be available as needed for guidance or just to talk. Already, several of the vets have made connections that bring them together for morning coffee, or for small dinners at one another’s apartments.
“Vets helping vets” is a phrase repeated often; several said that they learned to depend on one another for their lives while in the service. There is already a community developing at Bedford Green.
How to get involved
An advisory board for Bedford Green will be created soon, and Peabody Properties is looking for representatives of the community willing to be active in supporting community re-integration and participation.
In other properties that Peabody has developed, this board includes business and religious leaders, representatives from local cultural organizations, and other who are committed to making sure that the residents have opportunities they want and need in order to live the lives they choose.
There are lots of opportunities to engage with the people living at Bedford Green, through volunteering, through helping make community connections, and eventually through participating on advisory boards.
If you are interested in any of these opportunities, or just want to know more about this amazing program, contact
- Jacqui Larivee of Peabody Properties, at email@example.com or 781-538-6075
- Melanie Sarna, at the VA, at Melanie.Sarna@va.gov or 781-382-8998
- Cheryl Coviello at the VA, at Cheryl.Coviello@va.gov or 781-687-3521
Ribbon cutting ceremony – you’re invited!
VA officials, Peabody Properties, and community partners will host a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Bedford Green at 1 pm on Thursday, July 21, and the community is invited.
Some of the newly-housed Veterans will speak at the ceremony as will Don Corey, president of the Bedford Historical Society. There will be an opportunity to see one of the apartments and tour the building.
Editor’s Note: This article was amended to make several small corrections on July 20, 2016