Casper Housing Authority Will Offer A ‘Landing’ For Veterans
The historic former Roosevelt High School in north Casper will make history again as a home for veterans, especially homeless veterans, the director of the Casper Housing Authority said Tuesday.
"We're looking to put a one-stop shop in the old Roosevelt High School for veterans, and bring together all the veterans organizations in the city so that we can provide the best support possible," Kim Summerall-Wright said.
Veterans comprise more than 10 percent of Wyoming's population, and many of them are homeless, Summerall-Wright said. "We are a very patriotic state and it's time for us to step up to the plate and take care of our veterans because they are our own."
She outlined the project to the Casper City Council during its work session, and asked for a low-interest $433,000 loan to purchase the 94-year-old building from the Natrona County School District. The district's board of trustees approved the sale of the building on Jan. 9.
This initial loan from the city would be used to leverage money from other sources and all that would go to the remodeling of the building, which would cost about $2 million, Summerall-Wright said.
The school building and the portable buildings on the 2.5-acre site will be renamed The Landing. It will have services including nonprofit organizations for veterans in a place where they can be easily accessed.
"Our hope is that when a veteran walks in the door and says, 'I need help,' the services are right there and that we can help them," Summerall-Wright said.
On the second story, the plan for The Landing will feature 18 transitional housing apartments for veterans to help them re-enter society.
The plan for the first floor will have a 10,000-square-foot clinic for veterans, a larger and more accessible facility offered by the Veterans Administration in the Sunrise Mall on South Poplar Street, she said.
The Landing also will have a job training facility at its ReFabb 4 Less (the former Habitat for Humanity ReHab store that was in Mills), and a farmers co-op with a half-acre of garden space from the nearby Food For Thought project.
Chris Walsh, a combat veteran, said he favors programs for veterans but has reservations about a training program.
Summerall-Wright responded that many homeless veterans -- some on the streets for up to 10 years -- function in a "survival mode" with anti-social behaviors, and are not able to get, much less retain, employment.
Bob Hopkins questioned whether the city should offer a low-interest loan because any difference between a low interest and regular interest loan as part of an investment by the city would mean the taxpayers would be paying for that difference in the return on interest.
Summerall-Wright agreed, to a point.
A homeless person costs society upwards of $55,000 a year, she said. Besides the charity costs at food banks and shelters, homeless people incur emergency room visits, commitments to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute, and costs at the jail if they're arrested. Taxpayers already shoulder that burden, she said.
Amanda Huckabay, a veteran, complemented the program.
"I think this going to improve for veterans regardless of whether they're homeless or not," Huckabay said. "It's going to be able to provide that camaraderie they sometimes they don't have anymore being out of the service."
After council tentatively approved the loan proposal, it sent the matter to city staff to work out the details for a formal presentation to the council later.