A local community center and a group of veterans hope to transform 30 acres of largely undeveloped land in Amherst County into a thriving community for veterans as part of a growing push to eliminate homelessness among former service members.
“It will be a planned unit development for veterans, particularly those released from incarceration and who don’t have anywhere to go,” said Thomas Current, the president of the Lynchburg Area Veterans Council. “There is a need for housing in the Lynchburg area, and we want to jump on that.”
The effort, which is still in its early stages, is part of a joint initiative launched earlier this year by the veterans council and The Lighthouse Community Center, a Lynchburg-based nonprofit, to reduce homelessness among former members of the military.
The organizers envision a veteran’s village complete with gardens, a community center and on-site resources for residents who struggle with post- traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.
“We call it a therapeutic community because it will have all the things that would really enhance the quality of life of the people who live there,” said Terrick Moyer, the director of operations at The Lighthouse and a U.S. Air Force veteran.
The long-term project will build on the work already completed this year by the two organizations.
In July, the veterans council partnered with The Lighthouse to open a house for homeless veterans on Craddock Street. A few weeks later in September, the council opened a second veterans house on Garfield Avenue in the birthplace of Desmond T. Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
There are an estimated 485 homeless veterans across the state, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the Lynchburg region, social workers have identified and served 71 homeless vets this year, according to data collected by Miriam’s House, a Lynchburg nonprofit which helps rehouse homeless families.
The two groups plan to build the “veterans villas” on a stretch of land in Madison Heights off Dixie Airport Road. The property, which is owned by Moyer, is a mixture of cow pastures and woods. A stream runs along its edges.
Organizers hope to build 200 housing units in stages across the property’s 30 acres. A portion of the housing will be built as dormitories and will be set aside for veterans released from jail who are beginning their transition to life outside incarceration. The remaining units will be energy-efficient homes built to keep costs down.
A local architect commissioned by the two groups is now working to draw up site plans. Organizers have also identified developers to construct the buildings.
Those spearheading the effort concede the project is a “huge dream.” Current estimated costs will ultimately run at least $10 million. But he and others are confident they can secure funding through private donations and public sources. The group plans to apply for state and federal grants.
“I think the government has those kinds of funds for homelessness,” Current said. “We just have to ask for it and go after it.”
Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.