After receiving grant money as part of a new Department of Veterans Affairs initiative, a local behavioral health nonprofit is looking to build a new housing facility for the homeless veterans it serves in Orlando.
Aspire Health Partners filed a pre-application meeting request to Orange County’s planning department Friday to discuss building a 48-unit studio apartment building on land it owns at the northeast corner of W. Michigan Street and S. Rio Grande Avenue.
The nonprofit currently houses 48 homeless veterans in a dorm-like setting where as many as four individuals share a living space. In March, the Department of Veterans Affairs rolled out a new effort to decrease mass housing for homeless veterans and create more individualized unit-style living in order to reduce health risks, such as COVID transmission, associated with close-quarters living.
The federal agency began offering grant funding totaling $64.7 million to community organizations so they could construct new buildings and renovate existing transitional housing facilities to meet the new guidelines.
Aspire Health Partners received $3.6 million on this grant funding.
While it won’t increase the number of homeless veterans the nonprofit is able to house in Orlando, Todd Dixon, its director of development and community relations, told GrowthSpotter that the funding would be used to relocate the veterans from the apartment building on campus to a newly constructed facility of single-occupant studio units.
“We are building a completely new building,” he said. “This is funding to create a new living environment. ...The VA recognizes the need for privacy for individuals as they are trying get their lives turned back around and get back on their feet. And it’s an effort to reduce the possibility of COVID infection.”
Application materials submitted to Orange County said that the proposed apartments would be provided at no cost to homeless veterans.
“The living/sleeping space provided is 150 (square feet) per apartment plus a 50 SF ADA compliant toilet room for an approximate total of 225 SF for each single occupancy, studio apartment. At 225 SF, the proposed apartments exceed the VA’s capital grant requirements of a minimum 120 SF for private bedroom and private bathroom for each veteran.”
The Veterans Affairs Department’s Grant and Per Diem program has provided community-based transitional housing with supportive services for Veterans since 1994 as they transition back to permanent housing. The agency announced its shift to single-occupant housing in a March news release.
“The Grant and Per Diem program fills a targeted role in VA’s evidence-based approach to preventing and ending homelessness by ensuring Veterans facing housing crises have safe and healthy accommodations during their path to permanent, stable housing,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “These grants allow VA, alongside community partners, to amplify efforts to reduce homelessness and to protect the dignity of our most vulnerable Veterans.”
Aspire Health Partners serves Osceola, Orange, Lake, Seminole, Hillsborough and Brevard County with a number of programs focused on behavioral health issues, substance abuse and homelessness.
Once the homeless veterans are moved from their current living space to the new studio units, the nonprofit’s Orlando campus will be with a surplus building.
It’s not yet determined what function this building will serve in the future, Dixon said.
“It’ll be available for other clients and other services. We haven’t decided yet what we will use that other building for,” he said.
This is the second grant Aspire Health Partners has received in as many months. In late June, Orlando city officials agreed to grant about $45,000 to Aspire Health Partners and another nonprofit, Grand Avenue Economic Community Development Corp, to study if and how they can open centers to help in the region’s bout with street homelessness and mental health.
The grants were intended to help the groups take a look at costs and plans to repurpose and upgrade existing facilities to provide safe havens for unsheltered people and those with severe mental illnesses.
The point-in-time count by the Homeless Services Network identified 225 unsheltered people in Orange County — an inexact count, given the difficulties of finding people without an address.
The $12,000 grant to Aspire Health Partners was to look into the feasibility of using a vacant building it owns on Gore Street to provide respite services to homeless people. The study aims to pin down a potential floor plan and construction costs, according to the funding agreement, and determine the feasibility of such a plan.
The document says it would look into having about 30 beds — 20 for men and 10 for women — as well as medical rooms, social spaces and other necessary facilities.
Editors Note: The story has been revised to include more details about Aspire Health’s development plans.