A special meeting took place Wednesday night for two community councils in Eagle River, after concerns about a proposed homeless shelter for veterans in their back yard.

Members of the Eagle River Valley and South Fork community councils were invited to hear former combat veteran and president of the Alaska Veterans Foundation Ric Davidge’s proposal for a "Vets' Village" that would house homeless veterans.

Currently, Davidge says there are anywhere between 80 to 100 homeless veterans living on the streets of Anchorage.

"Homeless vets don't want to live in Anchorage almost overwhelmingly, and I was surprised by that," Davidge said. "The reason is they don't want to be pulled back into what we call the 4th Avenue subculture, because that pulls them back into a culture they don't want to get back into. When asked, veterans say they want to be in a cabin in the woods; that's what this concept includes."

The proposal is the product of seven years of work by Davidge. It envisions a rural campus with permanent, supportive housing including personal cabins based on the Housing First model, a place where homeless veterans can come together and find some familiar structure in a cooperative community -- with the goal of reintegrating into society and leading productive lives through work.

"The veterans we have would be required to make their beds every day, eat every day in the mess hall and work," Davidge said. "They'd be required to work a minimum of four hours a day. We'd give them the life they were used to, which will bring them back to who they really are and start the recovery process of getting back into society and being productive."

Davidge is trying to secure a small piece of over 100 acres of JBER land on Hiland Road in Eagle River, currently owned by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Anchorage Assembly approved a resolution in support of the concept of "Vets' Village," but Eagle River member Amy Demboski said she thinks the people in that area should have input on the project. She added an amendment to the resolution calling for the Veterans Foundation to keep the neighbors in the South Fork Community Council in the loop. 

"I think the concept is a good one," Demboski said. "I think conceptually we need to help homeless vets in Alaska; we have a huge vet population, so I think the concept is a solid one to try to achieve. But the devil is always in the detail, and the fact they bypassed the Eagle River community and went straight to the Assembly is what gave me pause."

Concerns raised at Wednesday's meeting included having veterans with mental illnesses near a firing range in the area and potential traffic increases at Hiland Road's intersection with Eagle River Loop Road, as well as the project's funding and costs.

The project is still in its planning and gathering-information phase according to the foundation, with nothing set in stone.  

For more information on the project, visit the Veterans Foundation website.

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