Veterans housing proponent seeks support from local community councils

Thursday, July 12, 2018 - 12:08

In an effort to gain local support for a proposed homeless veterans housing facility, the chairman of the group behind the project made a swing through Eagle River last week.

Ric Davidge, chairman of the Alaska Veterans Foundation, met with the Eagle River Valley and Eagle River community councils, where he laid out his vision for the facility to potential neighbors.

“Our mission is very simple: Do what no one else will do for veterans,” Davidge told the Eagle River Community Council at its June 14 meeting.

Davidge’s group is behind “Vets Village,” which he envisions as a place where homeless vets can work and live in a community of like-minded men and women. He started out by trying to clear up what he considers misconceptions about the project. He said the village — which would include housing, a mess hall and other amenities — would require its residents to work, abstain from alcohol and pay a portion of their salary to help fund the facility’s operations.

The whole idea, he said, is to give vets a place to call their own.

“We create a sense of community for veterans,” he said.

Davidge’s proposal has received letters of support from a long list of prominent politicians, including U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan; the Anchorage Assembly; and the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

But what it doesn’t yet have is support from residents of Eagle River, who have raised several concerns about the facility, which would be located on JBER land off Hiland Road. Among them: the potential for increased traffic, the lack of nearby facilities and the proximity to Eagle River High School.

Davidge said those concerns are overblown. He said traffic will be minimal at the facility because veterans will be transported to work in vans, and noted the wooded land that’s been chosen isn’t particularly close to any residential areas.

“Maybe you’ll see the flag, but you won’t see anything else,” he said.

He also said his plan is to have the facility be self-sustaining within 18 months of opening through on-site businesses, grants and contributions from residents.

“I don’t want to go to Juneau and beg them for money every year,” he said.

Davidge hopes to start construction within a year. But he’s got several hurdles still to clear — not the least of which the fact he has yet to secure the land where he’d like to see the project located. He told the councils he hopes to travel to Washington, D.C. in the near future in hopes of convincing the federal government to lease the 195-acre property to the state, which he said is possible under a law sponsored by Sen. Murkowski that would allow the land to remain under federal control over a state lease.

“It remains federal property,” he said.

His vision is to have as many as 100 formerly homeless veterans living at the site. The residents would be under strict requirements not to drink and to follow the community’s standards, Davidge said.

His long-term goal, he said, would be for the facility to eventually be taken over by the Veterans Administration, with his nonprofit taking an advisory role. Initial funding would be through the state, which Davidge said already collects taxes designated for alcohol and drug counseling that currently go into the general fund.

For anything to happen, however, he needs local support. The Anchorage Assembly made its endorsement of the concept contingent on getting that, which has yet to happen.

Davidge said he’d love to see local community councils write letters of support for his project.

“Those letters make all the difference,” he said.

So far, none of the local community councils have taken action either for or against the proposal. But Davidge said he’ll be happy to speak to anyone who wants to hear him out.

“Anytime you want me to come back here, I’m available,” he said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call (907) 257-4274

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