The beds are made, some topped with handmade quilts. The walls are decorated, many with military and inspirational-themed artwork. The rec room is furnished with a bookshelf, leather couch, big-screen TV, pool table and piano.
Everything is warm and welcoming, just as organizers of a transitional housing program for veterans envisioned three years ago.
All that is missing are the veterans.
WestCare Home for Heroes in Salem is still unoccupied, hopefully not for long. A partnership with the ARCHES Project seems imminent, although nothing has been finalized.
It would provide temporary housing for 15 homeless veterans from Marion and Polk counties. The facility has 30 beds, but funds funneled through ARCHES require single-room occupancy.
“It doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but just to be frank, anything at all that adds to the housing stock and housing options for our clients is a net positive for the community,” said Jimmy Jones, director of the program that oversees ARCHES.
His program offers WestCare, a network of nonprofit organizations that provides a wide spectrum of health and human services in residential and outpatient environments in 18 states, a lifeline while it awaits other potential funding sources.
WestCare hopes to get a piece of the Measure 96 pie, which directs 1.5 percent of net lottery funds to be used to provide veterans’ services, including housing. Much of that money, however, will be needed to cover for state budget cuts. WestCare also is pursuing other funding opportunities to help cover operational costs.
“It’ll never be self-supporting,” said Ray Switzer, vice president for WestCare’s Northwest Region. “We’ll be constantly trolling for dollars.”
Funding has been but one of the obstacles for the program, which originally was supposed to open during the winter of 2014-15. It has been inundated — as I’ve written before — by delays, disappointment, broken promises and more disappointment.
One of the delays, caused by the flooding of 10 bedrooms during a storm while repair work was being done on the roof, turned out to be a blessing. Asbestos was discovered and remediated, and all new electrical and plumbing installed.
All the while organizers have been working to rebuild the community’s trust. Leading that campaign has been program director Brenda Powers, a retired Army first sergeant who served overseas in Kuwait.
“Like with any other (mostly) volunteer organization, it always takes longer than you expect,” volunteer Bob Stebner said. “They’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, but with the people running it now, particularly Brenda, I think it’s going to be successful.”
The potential is great for the 10,000-square-foot building on Center Street NE, which is the former home of the YWCA’s Salem Outreach Shelter. It has a commercial kitchen, which makes Powers and Switzer dream of a culinary program for veterans someday.
“I’ve seen with some of these programs that this becomes a restaurant,” Switzer said.
The first order of business, though, is providing not only temporary shelter and food for homeless veterans but resources to help them stay off the streets.
And the need is great. Salem no longer has a veteran-specific transitional housing program and nearly 17 percent of the homeless population in Marion and Polk Counties are veterans, Jones said, which is slightly higher than the national average.
Since October 2016, ARCHES has assessed 124 people who stated they have had military service. Of those, 110 are eligible veterans and 41 were considered "high needs," according to Jones.
Compounding the problem in Salem is a low vacancy rate and the fact that many of our homeless veterans are dealing with other issues such as chronic medical, mental health and substance abuse problems.
WestCare and ARCHES seem like a perfect marriage. WestCare would provide and operate the facility. ARCHES would identify eligible clients and funding sources to pay for their housing.
Many details need to be ironed out before a partnership can happen. Jones said WestCare’s program plans need to be reviewed to make sure they meet the service goals of ARCHES and the requirements attached to federal and state funding resources.
WestCare officials believe it could happen as quickly as 30 days, and the bedrooms are ready for occupants. Most have a shared bathroom between them, and there are five showers, luxury accommodations for someone living on the street.
All 15 bedrooms have been adopted or sponsored by local organizations, nonprofits and individuals.
Among the sponsors, who purchased linens, drapes, rugs and other furnishings that decorate the rooms, are Marion County Sheriff's Office, Creekside Rotary, Chemeketa Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Salem's American Legion Post 136 and Capital Post 9, and Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 271.
In the room decorated by members of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, a wooden sign reflects the sentiments of all who have been involved in the project: “You belong here welcome home.”
"I wanted it definitely to be warm and homey," Powers said of the decor. "I didn't want it to be institutionalized looking. I didn't want it to be military barrack-type looking."
Another room, decorated by the Decker, Lentz, Matz and Druery families, has a music theme. Framed albums hang on the walls. One night stand is made from a blue tom-tom drum and the other from a big-box stereo speaker.
Bob and Jan Stebner also sponsored a room, furnishing two maple desks in theirs. Bob purchased them at a second-hand store and refinished them.
The couple also collected money from family and friends and purchased mesh bags filled with toiletry items that have been placed on each of the 30 beds.
“We saw a real need, in our minds, for better treatment for veterans,” said Bob Stebner, who served in the Marine Corps between the Korean and Vietnam wars. “A lot of them are homeless, don’t have jobs and are dealing with significant issues like PTSD. We just felt there wasn’t enough being done to help.”
“Forward This” appears Wednesdays and Sundays and highlights the people, places and organizations of the Mid-Willamette Valley. Contact Capi Lynn at clynn@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6710, or follow her the rest of the week on Twitter @CapiLynn and Facebook @CapiLynnSJ.