Homeless veteran home

The former location for troubled young men, The Journey Home at 210 S. Washington Ave. in Kankakee, is being considered as a 14-unit apartment facility for Kankakee County homeless veterans.

KANKAKEE — A South Washington Avenue property, which was most recently a residence for troubled youth, is being eyed as a possible location for a 14-unit apartment facility for homeless military veterans — primarily those from Kankakee County.

The Kankakee Planning Board, by a 7-0 vote last week, approved a conditional use permit for a group community residence which would allow the Kankakee County Housing Authority-managed property to operate in the site which had also been the longtime location for the Senesac Funeral Home & Cremations, 210 S. Washington Ave.

Currently owned by Neighborhood Redevelopment LLC, which is directed by managing partner Jeff Bennett of Limestone, the 5th Ward property has been vacant for more than a year.

After Senecac Funeral Home closed, the location became the site of the halfway house called The Journey Home, a leased location of the Nexus-Indian Oaks Academy, where 20 young men who were advancing out of the academy’s program could live and work.

The Journey Home was opened in May 2013.

‘THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY’

According to Eric Hanson, an attorney representing the Kankakee County Housing Authority, said the KCHA has submitted a $3.5 million application to the Illinois Housing Development Authority to rehab the property and provide some operating funds.

A decision on the IHDA application is expected within 30 to 60 days.

The site would be for military men and women. Each efficiency unit would be about 250 square feet and include a kitchenette.

While no exact figures were presented, the rehab budget for the two-story property was targeted at about $1.5 million.

If all goes as planned, the KCHA would close on the property in the spring 2022 and have an eight-month rehab timeline for the property. The goal would be to have the property ready for occupants by the end of 2022.

How extensive the issue is for homeless or displaced veterans is in Kankakee County is somewhat unknown. Officials noted there are at least eight to 12 homeless vets, but that number is far from official as most people dealing with homelessness often do not make themselves known.

Doug Jones, KCHA board chairman, said veterans are always prioritized on the agency’s waiting list, but having a location dedicated to veterans has long been a goal.

“This is an opportunity. It just seems like a great way to serve our veterans,” Jones said. “This just feels like the right thing to do.”

The goal of this housing program is to help get struggling veterans back onto their feet, Jones said. During the presentation to the planning board, Hanson noted there is no timeline as to how long a veteran can call the location home.

To be eligible to stay at the home, the veteran must be income restricted. The income guideline states they cannot be earning more than 30 percent of the area’s median income, in this case that would equate to yearly income of less than $15,000.

CONCERNS RAISED

While all those making comment during the discussion extended thanks to veterans for their service, there were many concerns as to whether the South Washington property was the proper location.

There were eight Kankakee City Council members present for the hearing.

Kankakee 3rd Ward Alderman David Crawford asked, “Is this the project we want in the downtown area, yes or no? I don’t know. We really need to think what we are doing here.”

The city is looking to somewhat expand its downtown footprint and development is moving outward of it. The concern is whether a project like this will discourage private investment.

Some council members noted that homelessness of veterans is a countywide issue. And because it is an issue for all of Kankakee County, could the home be located elsewhere?

Hanson said constructing a new residence would be far more expensive than rehabbing this site.

“Right now, it’s a vacant building,” he said, adding that if it remained that way it could lead to other issues.

“Kankakee can have redevelopment in its downtown and this fantastic project. These two things do not need to be mutually exclusive,” Hanson said.

He also noted the veterans would become part of the neighborhood and likely find work in nearby businesses, which are struggling to find workers.

Jones said this issue does not need to be an “either-or” choice.

“We can coexist,” he said. “We want to be good neighbors.”

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.