The Home of the Brave Foundation purchased a property near Milford for a homeless women veterans' facility before it had permission from Sussex County to begin operation.
During testimony at the March 4 county board of adjustment meeting, Linda Boone, chairwoman of the foundation board, said the board was aware a special-use exception application is required before the home could open.
Board of adjustment member Brent Workman asked Boone why her organization didn't come to the board prior to buying the property and starting renovations. “It was a board decision,” she said. “We have a good reputation; we didn't expect it to be rejected,” she answered.
The type of transitional housing proposed by the Home of the Brave Foundation it not permitted without a variance in AR-1 zoning. The home is located along Griffith Lake Drive near Abbott's Mill, outside Milford. The foundation board also approved $15,000 in renovations to the property, which have been ongoing for about a month.
Proponents say the services are desperately needed, and the home would fit in with the neighborhood. Opponents said they support the concept, but the home conflicts with the single-family home setting of their neighborhood.
Amanda Gaglione, who lives next door to the property, said she whole-heartedly supports the program and has donated to the Home of the Brave. “But, I like that I know my neighbors, and now we would have to regularly welcome strangers to our neighborhood,” she said, adding her family moved to the area as a quiet place to raise three sons.
“These strangers would be there all the time. Now my boys are concerned for their safety,” she said.
David Murphy, who lives across the street from the property, said there would be no indication what kind of people would be participating in the program. He called the proposed home a business in an area where there are no businesses, only single-family homes. “This would disrupt our whole way of living,” he said.
Boone said the Home of the Brave men's program has a 20-year track record of providing services to help homeless veterans get back on their feet. The home also operates under strict rules that include abstinence from drugs and alcohol. She said a similar program with the same rules would be offered at the women's home.
After nearly two hours of testimony, the board tabled the matter to its Monday, March 18 meeting.
Home would be open to women, children
It's been a long-time goal of the Home of the Brave Foundation to expand and offer a home for homeless women veterans. The foundation has operated a similar facility for men for the past 20 years.
Testifying before the board of adjustment, Boone said, the proposed women's home would offer beds for six women and their children with around-the-clock supervision. Boone said on any given night, there are 25 homeless women veterans in the area. She stressed the home would not be shelter, but a transitional home for longer-term stays.
Similar to a men's program at a home on Sharp's Road off Route 1 south of Milford, women would sign an individualized, case-management contract. Any deviation from the contract or rules infractions would result in removal from the program, Boone said. Stays at the home would average six to nine months with a maximum of one year.
To get into the program, Boone said, a woman would need to remain sober for at least 30 days.
Boone said the board has authorized establishing an advisory committee with people in the neighborhood among its members. She said out of concern for the neighborhood, donations would not be accepted at the site and a sign would not be placed along the roadway. She said appointments would be required to visit the site, which is not the case at the men's home.
Boone said the foundation has spent $15,000 on renovations to the property including an upgraded HVAC system, repairs to fix water damage, plumbing upgrades and replacement of an old bannister. If the special-use exception is approved, Boone said, additional improvements would be made including landscaping, an expanded sewer system, a sprinkler system and a remodeled kitchen.
Transportation for shopping and medical appointments would be provided by Home of the Brave and volunteers. Boone said the current home for men and the proposed home for women has the backing of many veterans organizations. “We could not survive without them,” she said.
Mike Rowe, program director of People's Place veterans outreach program, said the Home of the Brave has allowed many veterans to get their pride and dignity back. “They have left the home with a better future for themselves,” he said.
He said the stereotype that most homeless women veterans are substance abusers is false. “For most of them, it's economics and divorce,” he said. In addition, he said, about 50 percent suffer from sexual trauma. “They would have access to counseling for that,” Rowe said.
Not the right place
Several residents testified against the application. In addition, attorney Tim Willard presented the board with petitions signed by 66 area residents in opposition to the request.
Speaking on behalf of nine residents, Willard said no one in the area was opposed to programs to help homeless veterans. “They are opposed to the location and how it would negatively affect the neighborhood,” he said. “This is not the right place for this.”
Willard said he found 11 transitional centers throughout Delmarva that were all within town centers. He said this type of transitional housing is better suited to an urban setting where residents are within walking distance of services, schools and stores. He did not include Home of the Brave in his list, which is located on a large rural lot outside Milford.
After questions from the board of adjustment regarding documentation supporting the claim from opponents that property values would fall if the application is approved, a resident who lives next door to the property responded.
“Look at common sense. If you go to sell property with a homeless shelter next door, the ability to sell the property diminishes significantly,” said Mark Gaglione, who said he retired from the military in 2010 after 23 years of service.
Boone said there was no evidence property values would be reduced. She said the property would be improved and it would enhance the neighborhood.
Robert Corsa, Delaware commissioner for veterans affairs, said people should consider that a $750,000 house was recently built across the road from the Home of the Brave.