Conn. City Opens 'Model' Veterans' Housing

GRISWOLD, Conn. -- A new home for homeless veterans that has been hailed as a model for other veterans' housing projects opens today.

After years of planning and fundraising, the LaFlamme-Kusek American Legion Post 15 has transformed its Jewett City headquarters and a new addition into 18 one-bedroom apartments. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held today. Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge, commander of Submarine Group Two, will be the keynote speaker.

The veterans, who are single males or females from Connecticut, will start to move into the South Main Street apartments later this month. Counselors from the Reliance House Inc. in Norwich will be on site to work with them.

"This is going to provide people with a secure place to live and give them the tools to transform themselves," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who plans to speak at the ceremony. "It's a model that is being looked at very closely nationally, which is something everyone involved should be very proud of."

The American Legion Veterans Housing Inc., led by William J. Czmyr Jr., spearheaded the effort, but many people helped make the project a reality. There are plaques in the entrance to the building filled with the names of donors.

Many of the furnishings came from the community, from the couches and chairs donated by a local hotel group to the drapes made by an area women's group. Seniors from Griswold High School polished the furniture in the apartments last week.

The supportive home, which veterans can live for as long as they choose, was teeming with activity Friday as volunteers vacuumed, set up for the ceremony and moved some of the last pieces of furniture into the apartments.

"The rallying together of so many different groups reflects the growing sense that we need to keep faith with people who have served and sacrificed," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is also speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The apartments are nearly identical. At 525 to 600 square feet, each has a kitchenette and dining area, a bedroom with a queen-sized bed, dresser and nightstand, a bathroom and walk-in closet. The color scheme is predominantly blue, gray and white, interspersed with a few pumpkin orange-colored walls.

In the lobby, there's an elevator for handicapped access and two of the apartments are handicapped accessible. There are counseling rooms, common meeting rooms, storage spaces for the residents and an energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling system.

While the major work is done, many finishing touches remain. The basement has an exercise room and laundry room but no exercise equipment or washers and dryers.

The project's lengthy timeline and the remaining to-do list seemed to have somewhat tempered Czmyr's excitement about the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "I'm just going into another phase," he said Friday. "A lot of people have asked me why I'm so cool and calm about it. I've been working on it for 10 years. When people move in, the residents, that will be the last piece of the puzzle."

Nearly 500 veterans are homeless in Connecticut, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA selected the 18 veterans who will live in the home.

TALVI is still looking to raise about $500,000 to complete the home, Czmyr said, which will bring the total project cost to about $5.5 million. The majority was paid for by state and federal funding but the Home At Last Capital Campaign raised $460,000. The groundbreaking was held in November 2010.

"It's a very proud culmination of many long, hard hours and work by veterans and their advocates, which is all the more important as many more veterans return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan," Blumenthal said. "The numbers are burgeoning, and this hugely and profoundly important resource will fill a very urgent and immediate need."

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