Three moved in Monday.
By the end of the month, all 30 beds are expected to be occupied, and a few weeks later there will be a waiting list.
This is Valor Home in South Akron.
The new residents are veterans who served their country and today are homeless.
“It feels like home,” said Charles, 54, one of the first three residents of the new $1.5 million shelter. He was a Marine, said he had been homeless for two years and felt a sense of peace as he took up occupancy.
Among the rules of the house, at 1121 Exeter Road near the Summit County Veterans Service Commission office, is a requirement that full names, personal details and photos of the clients not be used to protect them from the stigma of homelessness.
Valor House is part of a national initiative.
As part of the Obama administration’s five-year plan to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs has committed nearly $1 billion to addressing their causes.
In 2010, there was an estimated 76,000 veterans with no place to stay. That was cut by 12 percent to about 67,500 the next year.
The opening of the Akron house follows a five-year journey of requests for financial assistance and volunteer work.
Vietnam veteran Bob Wilkinson said a committee was formed in 2008 and sought a VA grant to build a homeless shelter. He chaired the committee and continues as a volunteer for special projects.
The VA initially denied the request in 2009 but then approved a $900,000 grant in 2010. The Federal Home Loan Bank added another $474,000 — enough to get the project underway.
Valor Home is operated by Family & Community Services Inc. of Portage County, which also operates Freedom House, a 14-bed facility for homeless veterans in Kent.
Volunteers through Habitat for Humanity of Summit County provided a great deal of the labor.
The South Arlington United Methodist Church provided a finishing touch: A framed “Valor Quilt” hung on a wall of the first large room inside the door.
David Peacock, 53, a veteran of the British Marines and the therapeutic director of Valor Home, said the long process made it feel “like it was never going to happen.”
“This is a community answer to a community problem,” he said. He praised Wilkinson for his perseverance in working with other volunteer committee members to push to make the Valor Home happen.
Two other men in their 50s joined Charles on the first move-in day.
Earl, 59, who served in both the Army and Marines, said, “It’s a beautiful place … We are the pioneers.”
And Eddie, 54, a Navy veteran, will use Exeter Road as a home base, as he has enrolled to start classes at the University of Akron.
“There are a lot of opportunities to make things right,” Eddie said.
The first three residents all had previously been treated at the VA’s Intensive Outpatient Facility at 667½ Carroll St.
The facility’s full title is the Harry Donovan Jr. Valor Home, in honor of the Vietnam-veteran son of Harry Donovan Sr. The senior Donovan is a World War II Marine veteran who steered multiple landing crafts onto beaches in the Pacific, often in the midst of heavy fighting.
He is a successful tax accountant and consultant and has been a community leader and donor for many programs that assist Summit County veterans, many of whom are in dire need of help.
A thrift store to support operations will open July 21 at 764 W. Market St., Peacock said.
The nonprofit store will accept only men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. Artwork from therapy classes will be on display, Peacock said.
“This is a therapeutic community and everything that goes on here depends on everybody interacting with everybody else,” Wilkinson said.
For example, there is only one television, and it is of the large-screen variety placed in the commons area where residents must negotiate the controls and socialize.
Otherwise, “It would be tempting to cocoon in the room, but nobody would come out,” he said.
The new facility “is going to give me an opportunity to better myself,” Charles said. “There is no place like home.”
For information about Valor Home, to see a list of items still needed at the facility or to volunteer, go to www.valorhome.org or call 330-773-7000.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.