ICYMI: Bastrop shelter for veterans may open within a year (Monroe News Star)

By:  Scott Rogers
Monroe News Star

Excerpts: “Excitement filled the room of the facility that will eventually become a homeless shelter for veterans as U.S. Sen. David Vitter, local and state officials joined the Northeast Louisiana Veterans Association on Wednesday to show off the donated building…

“The shelter will provide a tremendous benefit for northeast Louisiana, Vitter said.

“The need is so real and the need is so great. Of all the U.S. veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, over 5 percent are homeless. That’s about 63,000 veterans. Sadly we have more of our share in Louisiana and northeast Louisiana is the only part of the state with no homeless facility for veterans. This facility will help begin to fill that need,” Vitter said.”


Monroe News Star
Bastrop shelter for veterans may open within a year
Aug. 14, 2013
Scott Rogers

Excitement filled the room of the facility that will eventually become a homeless shelter for veterans as U.S. Sen. David Vitter, local and state officials joined the Northeast Louisiana Veterans Association on Wednesday to show off the donated building.

In April, the association challenged the community to help it raise funds to establish a shelter for veterans.

The building was donated to the group by Bishop Johnston of Monroe. His family purchased the abandoned nursing home years ago to use as a climate-control warehouse.

“It makes me feel great knowing this will help our veterans,” Johnston said.

The building is located in Bastrop. Once it opens within a year, it will be the first shelter for veterans located in northeast Louisiana.

“This building is what it was built for — a home. A home for our veterans is something we can only hope for,” Bastrop Mayor Arthur Jones said.

Stewart Bashner, an honorary member of the Northeast Louisiana Veterans Association, grew up with a deep appreciation of veterans thanks to his grandfather, who served in the Army.

“He will always be my idol, and I will always work to help the great veterans who make this country what it is,” Bashner said.

Johnston remembers an article published in The News-Star where Bashner called on the community to help establish the shelter. Soon after reading the article, Johnston contacted Bashner about his building.

“I called him and told him I had something he might be interested in. They came out and wanted to buy it, but I said, ‘No, I’m going to give it to you,’” Johnston said.

The shelter will provide a tremendous benefit for northeast Louisiana, Vitter said.

“The need is so real and the need is so great. Of all the U.S. veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, over 5 percent are homeless. That’s about 63,000 veterans. Sadly we have more of our share in Louisiana and northeast Louisiana is the only part of the state with no homeless facility for veterans. This facility will help begin to fill that need,” Vitter said.

The facility has 48 rooms in four wings that will be used to house displaced veterans and their families. Remodeling work is being done by volunteers and the group is seeking donations to furnish the rooms. The plan is for each room to be different to give it a bed and breakfast atmosphere.

The shelter will be called Fort Hero Veterans Barracks. One wing will be opened at a time until the entire facility is occupied.

“This work isn’t done by a long shot. It will take a lot more man- and woman-hours and it’s going to take a lot more money to put the resources and renovations in this building that’s needed to upgrade it,” Vitter said.

Al Sanders, detachment vice commander for the Sons of American Legion of Louisiana, said the facility is something that's been greatly needed in northeastern Louisiana because this is the only region without a shelter for veterans.

“I’m just excited and overwhelmed because this is a longtime coming for the veterans of northeast Louisiana. I’m glad to see this happen for the veterans,” Sanders said.

He commended Johnston’s donation, saying, “it’s overwhelming to know someone has that kind of heart to help our veterans.”

The association will work with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs to obtain benefits for the veterans who were discharged honorably. Counselors also will volunteer at the shelter to provide alcohol and drug addiction counseling.

The group hopes to have another facility established in Monroe that could serve as another shelter for displaced veterans and lodging for University of Louisiana at Monroe students attending college on a GI Bill or receiving assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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