World War I-era nursing home to house area veterans

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
A nursing home at the uptown Veterans Administration campus will be converted into transitional housing for 20 veterans.

Twenty homeless veterans, most of whom are already receiving services at Augusta's Charlie Norwood Veterans Administration Medical Center, are closer to independent living with the VA's award of a $391,185 grant and per-diem funding to a local nonprofit.

The funds are part of about $1.2 million Hope House Inc. is seeking to remodel an unused World War I-era nursing home on the Norwood center's uptown campus into 20 studio apartments, Hope House Executive Director Karen Saltzman said.

The Freedom's Path development, which includes a second phase of 50 units of permanent supportive housing in an adjacent building, came under fire in May when residents of nearby Highland Park objected to the complex using an entrance on Maryland Avenue, which runs between the western edge of the campus and their neighborhood.

Responding to pressure, Augusta commissioners refused to rezone the tract unless the new entrance wasn't created, so Freedom's Path will use the main VA campus entrance on Wrightsboro Road, Hope House officials said.

Saltzman said the grant and per-diem funding, to be used for supportive services for residents with substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other service-related disabilities, "brings us a step closer to answering a critical need for our veterans."

With construction set to begin in January, Freedom's Path is scheduled to be ready to open its doors to 20 male veterans, most of whom are current residents of the nearby VA Domiciliary, next summer, she said.

"This is transitional housing," Saltzman said. "It's not a halfway house; it's not a homeless shelter. It's to transition them back into the community."

The need is there. Unlike Vietnam veterans, who averaged eight to 10 years out of the military before becoming homeless, returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets are winding up homeless in six to 12 months, she said.

Hope House, which already operates housing with Augusta Housing Authority for homeless women and their families, is developing the project with Affordable Housing Solutions Inc. and Cooperative Resource Center. The funds will also pay for transportation for the veterans.

Although the award allows the construction project to move forward, developers have applied to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and other sources to complete the first phase, Saltzman said.

The project also will benefit from tax credits for rehabilitated historic properties, and when renovations are completed, both structures will be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Craig Taylor at Affordable Housing Solutions.

The former hospital rooms, which once housed several residents separated by curtains, will undergo substantial renovations to become one-person apartments, Taylor said.

The work will preserve architectural features that will enable visitors "100 years from now" to get an idea of what a post-World War I nursing home was like, he said.

Unlike the nursing home residents, Freedom's Path residents will be free to come and go, Taylor said.