WORCESTER – It’s not every day a 123-year-old building gets a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but Monday, a collection of local legislators turned out to give Veterans Inc. the keys to the building it has leased for decades.
The action, along with $3 million in new funding, is expected to significantly enhance services available for area homeless veterans.
"This is going to be one jewel that Massachusetts will be very proud of,” Veterans Inc. President and CEO Vincent J. Perrone said Monday morning at a ceremony announcing both the ownership change and a new federal grant.
The organization — the largest nonprofit provider of services to veterans’ families in New England — has been leasing 25,000 square feet of the former Massachusetts National Guard Armory at 44 Salisbury St. for $1 per year since 1991. Now, the organization officially has been given ownership of the entire building — an extra 71,000 square feet that administrators say will allow it to spread out its operations and provide better service.
“There will be nothing like this in America. There is no such thing as a one-stop veterans’ resource center,” Mr. Perrone said.
Jason Palitsch, government and public affairs officer for Veterans Inc., said the organization will be able to move administrative offices from the old, three-story part of the building to the newly acquired four-story portion facing Salisbury Street. That will free up more living space for the 85 veterans currently housed in the building, he said, and will also allow for a new welcome center for prospective volunteers or partners.
“I know you will make good use of every inch of it,” said U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, who announced the $3 million in new funding.
The money comes from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as part of a $207 million national homelessness-prevention effort. Veterans Inc. was one of 82 organizations in the country chosen to receive funding based on its work and on Worcester County’s being designated a “high-need” area.
The non-renewable grant will be given in $1 million payments over three years, and is intended to allow the organization to help 600 Worcester County veterans and their families keep their current housing or find a place to live.
“It’s all about housing stabilization,” said Allison Alaimo, the organization’s vice president for finance, development and administration.
Ms. Alaimo said the federal government accounts for roughly 60 percent of the organization’s approximately $10 million annual budget. Last year, the organization helped 775 veteran families across New England, she said, so a commitment to help 600 veterans in Worcester County alone will be a significant boost to local struggling vets.
Calling it “a place of hope,” Mr. McGovern pledged to work to help Veterans Inc. find additional money to renovate its “new” portion of the building.
“If Veterans Inc. didn’t exist, countless veterans would be falling through the cracks,” he said.
Built in 1891, the building is on the National Historic Register, and will need significant infrastructure improvements that Mr. Perrone said would likely cost “several million” dollars.
Denis Leary, executive director of Veterans Inc., said the organization is setting up a feasibility study for that work with financial help from the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
The approximately $100,000 study should give the organization a better idea of what needs doing, Mr. Leary said. Then, it will begin a capital fundraising campaign.
“We’ll look for support from the local and larger community, and from anyone that feels that helping veterans is an important thing to do,” Mr. Leary said. “This is the beginning of a journey to better serve our veterans and their families.”
According to a news release from Mr. McGovern’s office, the new federal funding is part of an effort to support President Barack Obama’s goal of ending homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015.
The national homelessness rate among veterans has declined 33 percent since 2010, the release says.
Since being founded in 1990 by a small band of Vietnam veterans, Veterans Inc. has aided more than 50,000 veterans and their families, the organization said. In addition to helping veterans maintain or receive housing, it also helps them train for jobs, get healthy and find transportation or legal advice.
The organization said that nearly all of the 1,575 households it has served since 2011 have maintained housing for at least six months after receiving services.
“It’s great that the work of this excellent facility continues,” said state Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr., D-Clinton, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Naughton was one of many legislators on hand Monday. State Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, and state Reps. James J. O’Day, D-West Boylston, John J. Mahoney, D-Worcester, Mary S. Keefe, D-Worcester, and Daniel M. Donahue, D-Worcester, also attended.
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Timothy P. Murray was also at Monday’s event, pledging to use his influence to help veterans in the programs find jobs.
Mr. Leary asked politicians to continue their support for his organization, noting that post-9-11 veterans have the highest incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and domestic violence.
The unemployment rate for such veterans is 27 percent, Mr. Leary said — more than triple that of their civilian counterparts of the same age.
“We’re not doing any favors for veterans,” Mr. Leary said. “We’re actually paying them back.”
Contact Brad Petrishen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG