Kensington: Making An “Impact” In The Fight Against Veteran Homelessness

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to end homelessness among veterans nationwide by 2016. Activists and supporters throughout the country are working together to reach that goal.

Philadelphia’s Impact Services Corporation is a local organization that hopes to make veteran homelessness a thing of the past.

Impact Services Corporation opened in 1974. They are a nonprofit that works to get homeless veterans off the streets and into treatment and housing facilities. Most of the veterans they work with deal with issues in mental health and substance abuse, usually the contributing factors that lead veterans become homeless.

Hancock“Most of the folks referred here have at least two disabilities,” said John MacDonald (above), the president and CEO of Impact. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a drug addiction. Alcohol is also an issue. We have focused on that population throughout our history. We are a drug-free, therapeutic community within the neighborhood.”

Impact offers veterans a four step process toward sobriety and housing. The first two steps involve a rehab living situation with rigid rules geared towards attaining sobriety. This prepares vets to move into Impact’s short term living site, Hancock Manor. Stage three consists of living at Hancock with their own private place. They now have the ability to hold a job and have freedom to come and go from the facility. Step four is transitioning into a permanent living situation.

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“It’s their program, they have to be committed to it and we’re here and willing to support them,” said Steven Culbertson, Impact’s director of veterans and housing programs. “We take people, wherever they are at, and develop a coherent plan and walk down the path to get there.”

Through working with impoverished veterans, Impact is aware that affordable housing for veterans with families is an idea that is undeserved in Philadelphia. They are working to make families a more significant part of their focus.

Culbertson stands with Impacts corporate headquarters to his left, the adjacent brick building will be reconstructed into the Impact Veterans and Families Housing Center.

“The project started as us picking up on a need for large unit apartment housing for homeless veterans and their families,” Culbertson said. “There is really no housing dedicated to families that is purely, 100 percent veterans.”

Impact will finish converting a large section of their current office building at 1952 East Allegheny Avenue into 26 affordable apartments by the fall of 2015. These units will be made available to veterans with families for long-term housing. The project is named the Impact Veterans and Families Housing Center.

“The families have a more difficult time uncovering adequate housing as a result of having dependents,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald also knows that many available assistance programs serve a larger percentage of men. Having a family focused residential project will provide Impact with another resource to offer women who have served in the military.

“There are many folks looking for this kind of assistance. To be able to offer help to women veterans and children is important and ideal,” he said.

The development will offer seven three-bedroom units, 18 two-bedroom residences and one unit designated for use by a program monitor. Six units are designated specifically for handicap residents. All 26 apartments will be fully accessible for people with disabilities through the use of elevators and following VisitAble guidelines during construction.

Steve Culbertson explains new exterior to the Impact Veterans and Families Housing Center.
Steve Culbertson explains the new exterior to the Impact Veterans and Families Housing Center.

The new facility will simultaneously provide Impact with an avenue to assist veterans and their families. It will additionally continue to get the word out amongst homeless veterans that Impact is there to assist with their specialized needs.

“We want to maximize our ability to reach people,” Culbertson said. “We know where these guys hang out and even who they are. It’s the relationship, ultimately, that will get a person to come in after being on the street for 20 years. We have a place for you with a key that you can call your own.”

Impact is a part of the Kensington community.

“We’re lifers in the neighborhood,” said MacDonald. “I’m just as comfortable walking these streets around here as anybody else. My whole life’s been here.”

The neighborhood surrounding the Impact Veterans and Families Housing Center offers convenient access to public transportation, shopping and a number of highly-rated charter schools.

“We have a companion piece we just got approval for and that is to further our independence zone, as we call it,” MacDonald said. “We’re in the process of acquiring six to eight properties on Allegheny Avenue, right near this corporate headquarters, where the new housing will be built.”

MacDonald sees Impact continuing to expand their housing options to build a place for a community of veteran families to grow.

“This will give us the opportunity to create a community of folks who are working through some difficult times, he said, “and provide the supports that are necessary for them moving forward.”

– Text, Video and Images by Zachary Rendin and Bob Dieckmann.

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