By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — It’s been a busy five months at St. Michael’s Veterans Center. The Catholic Charities-sponsored center, located a stone’s throw from the VA Hospital in east Kansas City, officially opened its Phase I, 58 one-bedroom apartment homes and supportive services for homeless and at-risk veterans, June 30.
Phase I is now fully occupied. Eric D. Verzola, Catholic Charities Director of Veterans Affairs, and a U.S. Army veteran, said the apartments are rented to mostly single male vets, but there is one dual military couple and one female Navy veteran.
Verzola said during his remarks at the grand opening ceremony, that St. Michael’s is “a place that veterans can call home.” Like in any home, there are occasional disagreements, but by working together, they can be smoothed out.
“We’re taking baby steps with the veterans,” Verzola said, “learning about them and getting to know them. The uniqueness of the population — formerly homeless or at-risk (of homelessness) veterans — leads to challenges. Baby steps yes, but we’re not babying them! The supportive services we offer are available, but they’re voluntary, a veteran has to want the services.”
He added that during the last months, he has learned that for some veterans, it’s easier to be homeless than to live in an apartment complex, like St. Michael’s. “There’s no lease to sign on the streets, no rules saying when to turn radios or TVs down; some vets might find it difficult to live with rules and responsibilities.”
Rent assistance is available for those who need it, utilities are free, washers and dryers are free, a food pantry is on site for residents and, Google Fiber is being installed in the building.
Along with Catholic Charities supportive services available to the residents, Verzola said the local YMCA and University of Missouri Extension offer healthy living classes, a volunteer teaches yoga classes and Legal Aid of Western Missouri assists with legal questions or issues specific to veterans. There is a Green Vets program: a recruiter promotes and helps veterans find jobs with Green (ecologically friendly) firms.
Catholic Charities Supportive Services for Veterans works with veterans to help them find safe housing and make the transition to productive and healthy civilian life. Clients of Catholic Charities Supportive Services who are not residents of St. Michael’s are referred to St. Michael’s Veterans Center to share in celebrations for veterans, Verzola said.
A number of supporters assist with special events for the residents. Members of St. Mark’s Parish Knights of Columbus Council #6794 hosted a Veterans Day Meal Nov. 8. The local VFW and American Legion Post 21 hosted a Veterans Day celebration from Nov. 8 – 11, including a cookout, breakfast for the residents, and a cake presentation.
KC Team Red, White and Blue, the local chapter of the national Team RWB, works to connect veterans to their community through physical and social activities. Several St. Michael’s residents have participated in marathons and other physical activities with KC Team RWB, Verzola said.
A little over a year from now, Phase II should open. Construction is scheduled to begin in March 2015, with the Grand Opening expected by the end of the year. There will be 59 apartments, including several for married couples. The building will also house Catholic Charities Supportive Services for Veterans, with counseling rooms, classrooms, a computer center, offices for the staff and storage.
“We’ll have even more supporters when Phase II opens,” Verzola said. “The Elks plan to help with Phase II.” The order offers several services to help veterans.
“We are excited about the future, about Phase II,” he said. “More apartments for veterans, the supportive services center, and there is an Honor Garden in the works.” Reminiscent of the Victory Gardens planted to honor the war effort during World Wars I and II to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs to help reduce pressure on the public food supply, Honor Gardens are designed to honor those who died serving their country. On the home front, veterans as well as family and friends of those fighting to keep America free, plant beds, planters and containers with red, white and blue flowers.
“Yes, things are good at St. Michael’s Veterans Center,” Verzola said.
For more information on St. Michael’s Veterans Center or services for veterans, email email@example.com or visit www.catholiccharitieskc-sj.org.