A solution to chronic homelessness a decade in the making is taking shape near downtown Wilmington.
Although the first mound of dirt at Good Shepherd Center’s Lakeside Reserve has yet to be turned, a groundbreaking for the site is set for this summer, thanks in no small part to some hefty financial support.
State Employees Credit Union (SECU) recently gave $1 million to the local center toward the $5 million affordable housing complex at the former Adrian B. Rhodes Armed Forces Reserve Center, 2144 W. Lake Shore Drive, behind Legion Stadium and near Greenfield Lake.
Good Shepherd has been quietly raising funds for Lakeside Reserve – a 40-unit complex for single adults with disabilities – since last year, according to senior development director Jane Birnbach. To date, Birnbach said Good Shepherd has raised a total of approximately $3.5 million, including SECU’s gift, from a combination private and public grants and contributions. Now, the center will turn its attention to the community for help in funding the remainder, she added.
“We think that’s a manageable amount to do a public campaign,” she said. “We’re very excited to have such resounding support from the community…The million is huge and it’s huge anywhere you go but especially for this area. It’s just going to make such a difference.”
Pushing the project closer to completion is exciting news for Birnbach and her peers, indeed, since plans have been in place since 2006 to create permanent and supportive housing for homeless individuals with disabilities, including the elderly and military veterans.
“…Research shows that this is the group that is hardest to get re-housed and more challenging and more vulnerable in the community,” Birnbach noted.
Discussions of Lakeside Reserve began 10 years ago when the Armed Forces building was identified under the federal Base Closure Community Redevelopment and Homeless Assistance Act of 1994, which mandates reuse of bases for the purpose of assisting the local homeless population.
Under the act, the property was ceded to the City of Wilmington, which was then responsible for demolishing the building and handing over the site to the proper party. That demolition work was completed in 2014.
Construction is set to begin mid-year on the first phase of Lakeside Reserve, which will be 16 units housed in one building that also includes a community kitchen, shared space and offices. While moving tenants into those one-bedroom apartments, Birnbach said, work will begin on the second phase, six buildings with four apartments each.
When Lakeside Reserve opens up to its first batch of residents in early 2017, Birnbach believes it will signify the start of positive, long-term change.
While temporary shelters like the one Good Shepherd operates are crucial, Birnbach said, they aren’t going to end the cycle.
“Affordable housing is really the only way to find a solution to homelessness,” she said.
Rent at Lakeside Reserve will be set at 30 percent of a resident’s monthly income, so some form of employment or government assistance is a requisite. A person who receives $700 a month in aid or as a part-time employee, for example, would have a rent payment of $210.
A case manager will also be onsite, Birnbach added, and the complex will offer free transportation, enrichment activities and educational programs like financial literacy.
It’s a model Birnbach said agencies across the country are adopting, and it is one that has proved to be successful right here at home.
In recent years, Good Shepherd has added eight one-bedroom apartments to its Ashley Center, which offers an 18-month program for male veterans who are homeless and struggling with substance abuse. Participants in the program can now live in those apartments, even after the 18 months has passed.
Looking ahead, Birnbach said Lakeside Reserve could emerge as a inspiration to other communities hoping to help homeless people find a path towards secure, safe housing. Once tenants are selected for apartments, they can stay there as long as they’d like, provided they pay their rent.
“I’m pretty confident we’ll have Good Shepherd referrals and also referrals from beyond [the tri-county area]. I’m confident residents will be good tenants – and there’s no reason to think otherwise – so I think we are going to have a waiting list,” she said. “As people are looking at this kind of solution all over the country, I believe Lakeside is going to be the kind of project that people are going to come from outside the state to see what we’re doing.”
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.