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A Place of Their Own

With help from some national musicians, veterans organization Soldier On is working to convert the former Ann Lee Home into a housing campus for homeless veterans

by Ann Morrow on June 5, 2014


Former Poison frontman Bret Michaels canceled due to illness, but that didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of thousands of area veterans and supporters for last weekend’s benefit concert at the Times Union Center. Following a motorcycle rally-and-ride and a street festival on South Pearl Street on Saturday (May 31), the Charlie Daniels Band and the Marshall Tucker Band, both longtime fundraisers for veterans, played extra-long sets, and Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, himself a veteran of the Iraq War, spoke from the stage. “The words ‘veteran’ and ‘homeless’ should never be spoken in the same sentence,” he said.

The former Ann Lee Home, photo by Ann Morrow

The concert’s beneficiary is the Albany Veterans Campus Project, which plans to renovate the Ann Lee nursing home in Colonie into housing for homeless veterans. McCoy arranged the joint effort between Albany County and Soldier On, a national non-profit organization for returning veterans, after viewing the group’s first-of-its-kind housing complex in Pittsfield, Mass.

The public-private partnership will convert the long-shuttered Ann Lee building into 100 apartments as part of a campus encompassing permanent housing and on-site services for a variety of veterans’ needs including employment, education, substance-abuse and life-skills counseling, and emotional support. The veterans will own their apartments.

Located across from Albany International Airport, the future campus adjoins the tranquil acreage of the Shaker Heritage Society historic site. In 2012, Soldier On opened an administration center on the other side of the site; the house is leased from the county for $1. According to the county executive’s office, the new campus will require approximately $25 million in privately raised funding, and it’s expected that shovels will be in the ground later this year.

Soldier On already has served more than 500 veterans and their families in Massachusetts and New York, yet it’s estimated that a third of all homeless people are veterans. “When the men and women who bravely serve our country fall on hard times, the community must step up and provide the support they need,” McCoy said.

McCoy, who was on military tour in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, knows what its like to come back and transition, he has said, and even with the support of a large family, it can be difficult to acclimate. This led to his meeting with Jack Downing, the CEO of Soldier On. Through its Resource Center, the nonprofit will provide help in obtaining Veterans Administration benefits, and temporary financial assistance for rent, moving costs, and emergency supplies, in addition to its multi-phase home-ownership program.

“It’s an honor for us to provide these services to those who protect our freedom,’ McCoy said.