Veteran housing is something that we all can support. In fact, Connecticut residents do support it with their tax dollars. Five houses in Rocky Hill have $250,000 worth of renovations. They sit on West Street, across from the state facility, and are intended to house veterans. With that money, the houses were fully renovated. With donations, they were fully furnished. But the five houses have sat mostly empty for years.
The five houses have 15 bedrooms for use by veterans. In 2010, Commissioner Linda Schwartz announced the houses would be used for returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
Currently, there is one veteran living in the homes. In all of 2013, it was two veterans. In 2012, four veterans stayed in the homes, some just for a few months. In 2011, only two veterans lived in the houses.
It’s a familiar story for Connecticut veterans. According to state statistics, on any given night, one third of the Connecticut homeless population has served in the military.
“It’s not just a slap in the face, it’s a stab in the back. It’s a crushing of the heart,” said one veteran who told the News8 Investigators that he toured the homes and was put on a waiting list. We agreed to hide his identity, because he was given housing assistance in Section 8 housing. He lived on the New Haven green before that. ”For shelter, we were turned away, told [sic] there wasn’t no funding. We were put on a list.”
According to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homeless, one in ten of the homeless in the state is a veteran.
“Since I started in 2001, they basically have been empty the whole time,” said Herb Mitchell, a former Department of Veteran Affairs employee who worked at the Rocky Hill facility until 2010. “I’m angry. I’m frustrated because I know there are women with children and I know that there are veterans throughout the homeless shelters that are at their max that cannot have a decent place to live.”
Decades ago, the houses were for Connecticut Department of Veteran Affairs employees. Free housing was part of the deal that came with working at the facility. When that program was abandoned, so were the houses. They sat vacant and overgrown until 2010. It’s now called “Patriots Landing.”
In a ceremony showing off the newly renovated homes, Commissioner Schwartz showed News8 cameras through the homes.
“I look forward to having this as a new resource that can feed into and assist these folks. Almost 20 percent of the military today are women veterans. And many of them are single parents,” said Commissioner Linda Schwartz at the March 10, 2010 event.
Commissioner Linda Schwartz cancelled a scheduled interview to talk about the houses. News8 Investigative producer Tamara Christian caught up with her at a public function to ask her about the houses and their vacancy.
“For single veterans, it’s just not where it’s at for them,” said Schwartz. The state has rules that ban drinking and overnight guests at the homes. Schwartz claimed that few veterans would stay in the homes because of that. “The ones that we have had, the families, it has worked out very well”
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the News8 Investigators looked at Schwartz’s calendar. In January, she held five meetings about the houses, and said she is currently accepting referrals to fill the homes.
As of this publication, requests for a sit down interview about the homes have gone unfulfilled.