New housing planned for homeless veterans 

Aging, homeless war veterans will have a new place to call their own under a project that will shutter a seasonal SoMa homeless center.

A grand, nine-story, city-owned building on Otis Street north of the Central Freeway will be converted into affordable housing for 76 senior and homeless veterans in need of medical care.

The lower three levels of the former Juvenile Court and Detention Home, built in 1916, is presently used as a seasonal homeless shelter and the rest of the building is used for storage.

Construction work at the historic landmark is expected to begin next year, and the building could be largely filled with veterans by 2012.

The incoming residents, most of whom are expected to be Vietnam War veterans, will receive in-house treatment for chronic substance abuse, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental and physical disabilities.

Veterans 55 years and older will qualify for the studio apartments, according to Michael Blecker, director of local nonprofit Swords to Plowshares, which will rent the building from The City for $1 a year.

Homeless veterans suffer from age-related illnesses many years earlier than veterans who have housing, according to Blecker.
There’s a strong need for supportive housing for aging veterans, in part because the federal government largely stopped providing such facilities in the 1980s, Blecker said.

“The population hit really hard is the former baby boomers who are now seniors and served in a war,” the Vietnam War veteran said.

The federal government will help some of the residents pay for their accommodations in the new facility, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Dave Bayard said.

The building’s existing 59-bed shelter, which opens up nine months a year when the weather is wet and cold, will close in July, according to San Francisco Homeless Policy Director Dariush Kayhan.

“We’re always looking at capacity in our shelter system compared to demand,” Kayhan said. “Right now, we feel that we are meeting the need.”

Kayhan said The City is expanding housing opportunities for homeless people and that the effects of the shelter’s closure will be analyzed before it shuts.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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