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The Boston Globe

West

Shrewsbury

Grant will aid expansion of facility for homeless veterans

A housing facility for homeless veterans in Shrewsbury will not only get a face lift, but will soon include more beds, thanks to $3.3 million in state funding, according to officials.

Independence Hall on South Street is one of nine programs offering housing for low- to moderate-income or homeless people that are sharing $25.8 million in state and federal subsidies and tax credits, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

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A 55,000-square-foot former retreat center, Independence Hall is owned by Veterans Inc. of Worcester, a private nonprofit organization that offers services to veterans across New England, including housing and support for health and wellness, employment, and training programs.

Independence Hall is one of the organization’s five veterans housing programs in the state. The group also has a facility in Vermont, and is planning additional housing sites in Connecticut and Maine, according to its website.

Currently, Independence Hall provides services and temporary housing for 23 veterans, said Denis Leary, executive director of Veterans Inc.

The $3.3 million grant will fund an Independence Hall renovation plan, state officials said. The project is aimed at providing additional temporary and permanent housing for homeless veterans, while improving the quality of the facility and making the existing space more accessible for people with limited mobility, said Leary.

When renovations are complete, the number of living units will increase to 45, he said.

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“The thing I love most about this particular site is it really brings forward to the veterans a peaceful sense of stability and openness,” Leary said. “They are trying to get life stabilized and move on to the next stage.”

The project will get an official launch at 3:30 p.m. Monday with a groundbreaking ceremony to be attended by top Patrick administration officials, including Coleman Nee, secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services, and Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development, and US Representative James McGovern of Worcester.

Independence Hall is part of the 22-acre Calvary Retreat Center property that was purchased by Veterans Inc. in 2009. The complex’s former use makes its spaces ideal to provide education, counseling services, and housing to veterans in a peaceful setting, said Leary.

“It feels very private and bucolic,” he said.

The building and grounds are also large enough to provide rental space for conferences, functions, community events, and even weddings.

On Sundays, Leary said, the largest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the state takes place at the hall.

“The facility is absolutely one of a kind,” said Leary.

Renovations to Independence Hall, which was built in the 1960s, will include infrastructure upgrades to plumbing and electrical systems.

Work will also be done to make the facility more handicapped accessible, while also creating additional living space for veterans.

Some units will be transitional housing, where veterans stay for about two years, Leary said, while other units will provide permanent housing for veterans to “transition in place.”

The furnished units offer a private bedroom, while veterans share cooking and bathroom space in a congregate living arrangement. Some of the units also have private baths, said Leary.

The improved space will also allow the staff to do more intensive work with the veterans.

The challenges that returning veterans face include substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder, and medical, economic, and personal problems, Leary said.

“Shrewsbury is a wonderful spot that allows veterans to regroup and reenergize,” Leary said.

Unemployment is also a problem for veterans, Leary said, noting that last year the unemployment rate among former members of the military was twice as high as the national average. Veterans Inc. has an employment and training program designed to address that issue, he said.

While the Department of Housing and Community Development is providing the funds for the facility’s renovations, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs helps fund operations, , Leary said. More staff will be added as the Independence Hall population grows, he said.

Funding housing projects across the state not only helps the individual veterans, but also boosts the local economy, according to state officials.

“Creating affordable housing helps to generate jobs, grow local businesses, and strengthen our communities,” Governor Deval Patrick said in an announcement on the grants. “Government’s role is to help people help themselves, and sustainable affordable housing will build a better Commonwealth for generations to come.”

Abby Jordan can be reached at globe.abby@gmail.com.

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