Highland Park neighbors not anti-veteran

They were vocal during planning commission and Augusta Commission hearings, but late last week residents of the Highland Park neighborhood grew silent.

"A lot of this has been a miscommunication," said Catherine Winbush, the president of Highland Park Neighborhood Association.

Members of the association spoke out against plans to open a gate from Freedom's Path, transitional housing for homeless veterans, onto Maryland Avenue, which borders Highland Park.

Freedom's Path will take shape when two 1930s-era VA buildings behind the uptown VA hospital are renovated into 70 units of transitional housing by Affordable Housing Solutions of Atlanta. The facility, expected to open its first phase in about a year, will be managed by Hope House, an Augusta-area nonprofit that runs a facility on Highland Avenue for homeless women.

The Augusta Commission approved the plans last week after Hope House agreed not to put an entrance to Freedom's Path on Maryland Avenue.

Hope House Director Karen Saltzman said she agreed to the concession because she thought the commission would veto the project otherwise.

"It was one-sided all the way," Winbush said of her group's portrayal by project organizers and others as being anti-veteran.

Winbush said the Highland Park residents who have opposed the entrance include numerous veterans and veteran dependents such as herself. Winbush's late husband served two tours in Vietnam and was awarded the Purple Heart, she said.

But having the entrance onto Maryland was key to the project envisioned by Kathleen Scott, the chief of the VA domiciliary and head of homeless services.

Most residents who transition through Freedom's Path will be referred from the domiciliary, which houses and treats about 60 homeless veterans.

"That's why we have our domiciliary facing to the medical center, and this enhanced-use lease facing outside, because it's where your horizon is going to take you," Scott said.

Veterans hope housing project will help