Since February 2015, Ronald Grey said he’d been living like a deployed soldier. His nightly resting spot was a bunk bed at the New England Center and Home for Veterans in Boston, where he kept everything he owned in a wall locker and shared a bathroom with other former military members.
That all changed Friday when Grey was handed the keys to a furnished studio apartment on the fourth floor of the center’s Court Street facility, with views of City Hall Plaza, Faneuil Hall, and the control tower at Boston Logan International Airport.
“The view. I can’t get it out of my mind,” Grey, 52, said Saturday. “It’s world class. Incredible.”
Grey is among more than 30 homeless veterans who moved into the new units a few days ago and will wake up Christmas morning in apartments they can call home.
The residences are part of a nearly $35 million renovation and restoration project at the center to expand housing, counseling, education, employment, and dining services for homeless men and women who have served their country. Construction is expected to be completed in March.
“The goal was to get people homes for the holidays,” Andrew McCawley, president and chief executive of the nonprofit, said Saturday during a tour with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “We got them done this week.”
Thirty-three veterans already had moved in and the remaining four units are expected to be occupied by the end of the year, McCawley said.
The units are between 380 and 500 square feet and are equipped with a bathroom, kitchen, bed, dresser, closet, table, and two chairs. Residents share laundry facilities. Seven apartments have special appliances and bathroom configurations for handicapped veterans, and, for the first time, there are units for women, McCawley said.
The new units bring the number of permanent residences at the center to 97, he said.
Grey, an Army veteran, said he’s been homeless off and on since early 2009 when he was evicted from his apartment after losing his job as a laboratory animal technician at Harvard University.
Since then, Grey said he’s spent time in Kentucky, his home state, and Missouri before returning to Boston last year. He works at DSW in Downtown Crossing and aspires to resume classes at Harvard Extension School, where he had previously been a student.
“I’m so thankful to the New England Center and Home for Veterans for where I am,” Grey said. “It paid off so much [Friday] with getting settled here.”
While touring the renovation project, Walsh said the new apartments are part of the city’s effort to end chronic homelessness among veterans. The city provided $1 million for the renovation, McCawley said.
“This is really what you need,” Walsh said. “This is the model.”
There are about 250 homeless veterans in Boston, the smallest population the city has seen since 2007 when officials started keeping track, said Laila Bernstein, Walsh’s adviser for the Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness.
In 2014, Michelle Obama announced an effort to end homelessness among veterans by 2015. Since then, more than 800 homeless veterans in Boston have moved into homes, Bernstein said.
“There’s still more work to be done. And this project coming on is part of that,” she said.
The veterans moving into the new units are the among men and women who have been homeless the longest, said Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing.
The new tenants signed leases and received apartment keys after going through a process that included an assessment by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and meetings with representatives from the Boston Housing Authority, Bernstein said.
The veterans pay 30 percent of their income in rent, and the rest is covered by federal vouchers for homeless veterans, officials said.
The voucher also provides veterans with services from the VA, which has a social worker assigned to the center.
Grey spent part of Saturday setting up his new apartment and picking up groceries at Roche Bros. He said he planned to buy a nutcracker and small tree to decorate for Christmas.
“It’s going to be like Santa Claus came,” he said.