HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A local group is one step closer to building a village dedicated to housing homeless veterans in Harrisburg.
Nonprofit organization Veterans Outreach of Pennsylvania plans to turn a piece of wooded property behind PennDOT on Front Street, into a spot to help veterans.
On Wednesday night the Harrisburg Planning Commission approved their development plan, bringing them one step closer to breaking ground.
The president of the nonprofit Thomas Zimmerman says they’re going to build 15 tiny homes for veterans to stay in and one big community center staffed by a team of professionals to help them transition into independent living.
“To get them back into society, be able to get them where they can live permanently in today’s world,” Zimmerman said.
The village will be located on a five acre piece of land that was donated by a local family.
Veterans Outreach says they’ve invested time and money into ensuring the safety and long-term viability of the land for this project. Decades ago the space was owned by a steel mill, according to Zimmerman, which built it up so that it was above the 100-year floodplain.
Airforce veteran Lou Nieves is a board member of the organization. He says a lot of veterans face problems when trying to transition to civilian life, such as addiction and mental health challenges.
“After a while, it becomes a habit and you’re totally disconnected, and you end up under a bridge,” Nieves said.
He considers himself lucky for not ending up in that position but knows not everyone has the support they need.
“They get derailed and no one is there to help them get back on track. It’s disheartening,” Nieves said.
That’s exactly why he joined this project, so he could be part of the Veterans Outreach mission to offer that support.
“I don’t think anyone deserves to be homeless. But there are sometimes cases that happen that are beyond their control. We’re there to try to get them out of that pattern and back into society,” Zimmerman said.
The project will be entirely privately funded through grants and donations from businesses and individuals. Zimmerman estimates they need to raise around $3 million dollars before they can start building.
If you want to contribute you can find out more here.
Part of the reason for keeping it private is so they can operate independently of government restrictions and veterans can stay as long as they need until they can get back on their feet.
“To get a life. To become productive again. To have a sense of purpose,” Nieves said.
“They deserve it. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom. And so we want to give back to them,” Zimmerman said.
Now their plan goes to the Harrisburg City Council for approval.
The goal is to raise the needed money by summer of 2022, so they can start building then.