Freedom House project growing

Emily Andrews

Heather Bobnar, senior English major, contends with the wind as she attempts to fasten some Tyvek house wrap used to protect the walls of the house from weather. Bobnar says she became involved with the Freedom House project through a Portage County batte

Credit: DKS Editors

Veterans will soon have a new place to hang their hats because Freedom House is getting a new facility.

The Freedom House, a facility for homeless veterans, will still be located in Kent, but the new facility, which will have 14 beds, will be larger than the old and have five beds more than the current shelter.

“We were turning away veterans because of the lack of space,” said Matt Slater, program manager of Freedom House.

The new facility should be finished by the end of this year or the beginning of next year, Slater said.

“I think it’s a great thing because they fought for our country,” Anita Court resident Jelina Ross said. “We’ve never had any trouble from them or the other shelter.”

The new building is going to cost just under $600,000, Slater said. Veteran’s Administration gave $388,000 and the other $200,000 is still being raised. Local groups can adopt-a-room, which means they furnish the inside of one of the bedrooms, and the room is then named after the group. Engraved bricks are also being sold to help pay for the new facility.

“We still need help,” Slater said. “Some rooms still need to get adopted. There are quite a few opportunities to help out either financially or by giving time.”

Habitat for Humanity has been helping with the construction of the facility.

“We bid on the framing part of the building,” said Melanie Schumacher, office manager for Habitat for Humanity. “We’re putting up the walls, roof, doors and windows. Habitat is a housing ministry and this fit in with our mission of getting people off the street, even if only into temporary housing. It was obviously needed. The old house just wasn’t nearly big enough.”

The facility has been operational for three years and between the first and second year there was a 57 percent increase in residents, Slater said.

“Freedom House is an excellent idea for the men who served our country,” Council Member Carrie Gavriloff said. “A lot came back and have emotional problems. It is an excellent program.”

The new facility will have social workers sent from Veterans Administration to help with activities.

“They will be working to help veterans re-engage in the community,” Slater said.

Slater said he hopes the services provided in the house can spread to all veterans since there will be more space.

“We hope to get an Alcoholics Anonymous group for veterans,” Slater said. “We can open it up to all veterans. The new facility is going to open a lot of doors.”

To live at the facility, the requirements are that the person is a veteran, homeless, a Portage County resident and sober.

“I think any community should be able to take care of their veterans for what they have done,” Slater said. “Twenty to 25 percent of the homeless are veterans. We need to be able to help veterans who have fallen on hard times.”

Slater said he knew of a study on veterans from the War on Terror that showed that they are going into homeless shelters quicker than Vietnam veterans did, so the need to house the homeless will be growing.

“We always have the ability to expand,” Slater said. “We thought it was a good number to start with. We have almost double the beds that we did have.”

Slater said the community is what keeps Freedom House going.

“The Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion help a lot,” Slater said. “It’s a real grassroots facility. We have been successful because of the support of the community to work on the issue of stability and re-engaging of veterans.”

Contact news correspondent Emily Andrews [email protected].