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Project to house Clark County's homeless women veterans relaunches
Columbian - 11/16/2022
Nov. 16—Nearly six years after Ron Fryer made plans to build Veterans Village, a development for homeless female veterans, the project is back on track.
Fryer, founder of the Vancouver-based America for Veterans Foundation, had helped raise money and get a grant for the project a few years ago, but funding expired during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. Veterans Village never broke ground.
Now that pandemic restrictions have loosened, Fryer is trying again. "We decided to raise money on our own, and we've raised about $600,000. So that's enough to get this project going," he said.
Fryer is a veteran himself, having served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. With a desire to serve homeless veterans, he visited various shelters to see what residents needed.
He was appalled by what he saw, he said.
"People would sleep in these beds with their knapsacks on top of them and their arms around their knapsacks and one eye open, just to make sure that they could make it through the night. It was men, women, children, everybody all in the same room," Fryer said.
He heard stories from shelter residents about women being assaulted and having their things stolen. "Virtually every woman that was homeless that I talked to said that they feared for their life going into the shelters, and they would rather sleep under a bridge or out in the woods," he said.
In late October, Fryer submitted a pre-application to the city of Vancouver for the America for Veterans St. James Housing Project to provide a safe home for female veterans. The project is at 5118 N.E. St. James Road in the West Minnehaha neighborhood.
The proposed village would be a gated community of 36 micro-houses. It includes a unit for a live-in manager and for laundry facilities.
A modular office space would provide a place for meetings, offices and meals, according to the pre-application.
The first 18 units will be reserved for women veterans and will be built with cost-effective, energy-efficient materials called structural insulated panels. "They're very, very strong," Fryer said. "And because of that, we can stack them on top of each other, so it'll give us two stories instead of one."
Fryer owns the land where the proposed site is located. Bell Design Company will provide civil engineering and land surveying services for the project.
Veterans Village is still in a very initial stage, according to city of Vancouver Associate Planner Kristian Corbin. After the city reviews the pre-application, Fryer will then submit various plans that the city must approve. If all goes smoothly, Fryer hopes construction will finish sometime next year.
Stopping the cycle
Fryer has learned a couple things about homelessness in his years at the America for Veterans Foundation, he said.
"One is that homeless people cannot get any kind of public assistance unless they have an address," he said. He hopes Veterans Village will enable better access to social services and employment opportunities.
"The second thing we decided was that we were going to have a locking door on every unit." This will help residents feel physically safe as well as giving them a secure place to leave their belongings.
Third, he decided Veterans Village will not have a limit on how long residents can stay.
"All the shelters that we visited said that after 30 days, the person has to leave," Fryer said. "I looked at that and thought, 'If they're trying to heal from whatever ails them, whether it's drug addiction or PTSD or some other condition that they have that keeps them homeless, 30 days isn't enough.'"
People in this situation might backslide in their recovery, leading to a "vicious circle" of homelessness, Fryer added. "We want to stop that cycle. So we said there are no time limits. If you need to stay there for six months or a year or five years, it doesn't matter."
For residents without a job, rent will be free. Those with a job will pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. In exchange for unlimited housing, residents must be active in a recovery program, Fryer said.
Fryer plans to fund the project through a Veterans Affairs housing assistance stipend. Ongoing fundraising will also contribute to project costs.
You can donate to the Veterans Village housing project through the America for Veterans Foundation website: americaforveteransfoundation.org/donate.
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