By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Ground will be broken at 10 a.m. Saturday for Sarge's Place, a former apartment house at 260 Ash Ave. that's also known as the Peterson Building.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development -- with help from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell -- recently awarded the nonprofit North Olympic Regional Veterans Housing Network a $487,000 grant to buy and remodel the building, Cheri Fleck, project organizer and housing network president, said Monday.
The network also received a federal Department Veterans Affairs daily grant of up to $38.90 per veteran for operating expenses.
Sarge's Place will serve a largely unfilled need by helping homeless rural veterans, said John E. Lee, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
"What is incredibly important and unique about Sarge's Place is just the rural nature of the county," he said Monday.
The facility will contain 12 transitional beds, including eight for men and four for women on the first floor.
Sleeping areas will be separated by tall, wall-like partitions.
There also will be three, two-bedroom family apartments on the second floor capable of housing about four people.
Residents can stay in the transitional beds for up to two years and in the apartments indefinitely.
Work is under way on gutting the ground floor, Fleck said Monday.
When the facility opens its doors in June 2011, staff will include full-time case manager Matt Breed and a live-in caretaker who will stay there rent free as the Housing Network's "eyes and ears" at night, Fleck said.
Residents, the majority of whom are expected to be Vietnam War veterans, will be screened and undergo background checks, Fleck said.
They will need to present their discharge papers or will have to wait to receive the documents from the federal government -- a process Sarge's Place will help them with.
"We're trying to transition them into permanent housing and get them back on their feet, but we need to known where they've been at before they move in," Fleck said.
Referral services for housing and jobs also will be offered -- along with a place to take a shower or simply talk things out.
More often than not, services for homeless veterans are concentrated in cities, when in fact many veterans, by choice, live in sparsely populated rural areas, Fleck and Lee said.
"Sarge's will get them out of the woods, out of the bush, so to speak, and give them roof over their head every night instead of no night," Lee said.
Moreover, why would they want to go all the way to Port Angeles?
"When you are trying to transition someone from the woods or a beach, they don't want to go to Port Angeles," Fleck said.
"It's too far away, and there are too many people."
It's difficult to say how many homeless veterans are in Clallam and Jefferson counties, Lee and Fleck said.
Earlier this year, 30 respondents to the annual one-day "Point in Time" homeless survey identified themselves as homeless veterans in Clallam County and 13 identified themselves as homeless in Jefferson County, Lee said.
Fleck, who said many homeless veterans are reluctant to fill out the survey, estimated there were 50 to 75 veterans alone on the West End of Clallam and in western Jefferson County as of a few years ago.
"I literally had two new ones who came into my office today," said Fleck, whose day job is helping the homeless as housing coordinator for West End Outreach Services.
A half-dozen homeless veterans from Forks have already expressed an interest in staying at Sarge's Place, Fleck said.
"I would assume that we would not have any problem at all in filling all 12 spots we have downstairs," she said.
Two of the six who expressed an interest are homeless female veterans.
"Men are more apt to go out and not want to get emotionally tied down with folks," Fleck said.
"They are more likely to try live on their own even if it's a trailer with no power. Women are more likely to go into something with other people. Men might want to isolate themselves more."
Sarge's Place has been three years in the making, Fleck said.
She and others interested in providing homeless services to veterans met in 2007, about a week after attending a shelter providers' meeting in Port Angeles.
They had been inspired by a presentation on providing housing for recently released prison inmates, Fleck said.
"We said, 'Why not create a program, along with a case manager on-site, and help [homeless veterans] to reintegrate into the civilian world,'" Fleck said.
Fleck said her husband, Rod, Forks' city attorney and planner, thought up the name for Sarge's Place.
"Everything else seemed cliche," Cheri Fleck said. "We wanted it to be a safe place for veterans to go, and this just seemed right."
Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.