Nonprofit developing statewide veterans center

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is home to over 800,000 veterans, including over 8,800 estimated to be homeless, or about one in five of people in the state who are homeless.

To support homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, and help returning veterans move successfully into civilian life within two years, the Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina-CARES plans to build a Veterans Life Campus Center on the John Umstead Hospital Complex in Butner.

VLC-CARES will provide emergency and transitional housing for homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, as well as counseling, employment assistance, vocational education, life skills training, and treatment for combat-related issues, offering many of those services in collaboration with public and private agencies.

“Our goal is to provide statewide relief,” says Jeff Smith, financial director for VLC-CARES. “Many smaller communities and counties do not have the suite of programs these men and women need.”

Founded in 2009, VLC-CARES last year launched the quiet phase of a capital campaign to raise $10 million to develop a campus that ultimately would serve 400 veterans and create 50 jobs.

The first phase aims to raise $6 million to provide emergency and transitional housing facilities to house and feed up to 150 veterans in Building 71, known as Deerfield Cottage, on the Umstead campus. That would generate 30 jobs.

The effort has received a $4.2 million grant from the state Department of Commerce through a federally backed grant administered by the Town of Butner.

It also has raised nearly $300,000 in private contributions, including $200,000 from an event last January at the North Raleigh Hilton, plus another $300,000 in in-kind contributions of services from lawyers, accountants and other professionals.

And the N.C. Housing Finance Agency has provided VLC-CARES with a $25,000 loan to pay for preliminary engineering studies by Summit Design and Engineering in Hillsborough.

Umstead was built as a U.S. Army hospital during World War II and sold in 1947 to the state, which in 2011 leased eight buildings on the campus to VLC-CARES.

The second phase of the project would renovate seven other buildings, providing another 250 beds, plus a full institutional kitchen, as well as administrative and classroom space. The kitchen also would serve as a classroom for a vocational culinary program.

The third phase calls for development of an agribusiness demonstration model farm and gardens to support the educational, therapeutic and sustenance needs of the campus.

Smith says half-a-dozen federal agencies, half-a-dozen state agencies and up to 100 other organizations will provide services to veterans and their families living at the campus.

While Asheville-Buncombe Christian Community Ministries, a consortium of 277 congregations that administer social programs, operates a residential program known as Veterans’ Restoration Quarters for over 240 men, VLC-CARES says, North Carolina generally has a “glaring lack of coordinated reintegration resources” for veterans.

“We’re creating a focal point for many veterans programs to work together,” Smith says, “in a collaborative environment that currently does not exist in the state.”

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