“This supports the ability to really address all of the issues a person is a facing,” said Bruce Buckley, CEO of Soldier On, which runs similar facilities in Agawam, Chicopee, Northampton, and Pittsfield. “If you address most but not all of them, we’ve found, it doesn’t really provide a working solution.”
The building at Brighton Marine is a former military hospital that since the 1980s has housed an array of health and social service programs for veterans. It has been renovated into furnished apartments — they even come with sheets and towels. The nonprofit financed the renovation itself, said Brighton Marine vice president Marlene Calisi, and will use vouchers awarded to the Boston Housing Authority by the federal government to fund monthly rent and support services.
The first residents moved in last week, with everyone arriving by the end of this month, Calisi said.
“These are people who have been waiting a very long time for a place of their own,” she said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of tears, a lot of smiles.”
The Walsh administration has made tackling homelessness, and particularly veterans’ homelessness, a top priority, and providers around the city have housed roughly 1,300 homeless veterans since 2014, said Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing. The city still counts about 300 homeless vets, many living temporarily at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans downtown or other transitional shelters.
Brighton Marine, Dillon said, saw a chance to help with its surplus building and stepped up.
“It was great,” she said. “It was simple, and it happened very quickly. They had an existing property that was underutilized. They saw the need and they put this together.”
Incoming residents range in age from 34 to 81. While some will eventually move into more independent housing, many — especially older veterans — will probably for years. That’s been the case at other Soldier On facilities, Buckley said, where people find a community of fellow veterans to help support one another as they build new lives off the streets.
“The most important part is it’s a sense of belonging,” Buckley said. “If you’ve been homeless, you’re alone, and the root of continued homelessness is often that you’re trying to fight it alone. Once that weight is lifted, you can really see the individual blossom and they can start to get some traction and move forward in life.”