By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
Saturday’s skies limited their precipitation to a persistent drizzle as a large crowd gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony for a new residential project for homeless veterans.
Governor Larry Hogan joined federal and state officials for the event. Among others in attendance were numerous veterans from various American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War groups, with some having traveled significant distances to witness the official start of the project.
When completed, Perry Point Village will offer homes for 75 veterans and their families. The project is a public/private partnership with HOPE USA entering into a contract to rehabilitate World War I era homes at the Perry Point Veterans Administration Hospital in Perryville. Federal and state officials had to work together to get the project off the ground.
“I just want to thank all of you for being here,” Governor Hogan said.
“Maryland has a proud military heritage,” the Governor said, noting how Marylanders have served in every war from the Revolutionary War to the present time.
“Anyone who spent their lives in service to others has more than earned the support they deserve to live, work, raise a family and retire in Maryland,” Hogan said. “It is so important that we honor and take care of all of our veterans, and that’s exactly what the Perry Point Village project, here in Cecil County, will help us do.”
Thomas Hameline, Ph.D., president & CEO of HOPE USA, said his organization has long been involved in solving homeless needs. They currently have 1,200 employees in more than 50 locations in five states.
“This is truly, truly a unique project and one that we’re proud of,” Hameline said.
Kenneth C. Holt, Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development, was the master of ceremonies for the event that featured the Perryville American Legion Susquehanna Post 135 Honor Guard, Perry Point VA Chaplain Octavio Di Iulio and federal and state officials.
The tent used for the groundbreaking event was set up on one of the tranquil tree-lined streets in the village area of Perry Point. Deer graze contentedly and unafraid on the Perry Point VA campus. The village site overlooks the Susquehanna River, with the buildings of Havre de Grace visible across the waterway. The homes along these Perry Point streets have seen better times, but officials agreed that renovation can return them to good housing units.
“This has been a soldiers ghost town for too long and we’re going to bring it back to life,” Holt said.
Delegate Kevin Hornberger told the group that this project is a victory for Cecil County and veterans.
The U.S. government acquired 516 acres at Perry Point in 1918. A site was needed for an ammonium nitrate plant to help with needed munitions for World War I. The government leased the site to Atlas Powder Company. Atlas built a large ammonium nitrate plant. They also built a village with 280 homes for employees. Ammonium nitrate was needed for high explosives for the war effort. But the war ended soon after the plant and village were finished and the ammonium nitrate was no longer needed.
In 1919, Perry Point was handed to the U.S. Public Health Service to be used as a military hospital and for storage of the Army’s surplus hospital supplies. A two-story hospital was built to care for 75 patients. By 1920, the focus of hospital care at Perry Point shifted to neuropsychiatric care and the U.S. Veterans Bureau took over in 1922. The site has grown through the years. There are 85 buildings on the 397-acres campus.
The new Perry Point Village is made possible through the VA Enhanced-Use Lease Program. It gives developers a 75-year lease to create supportive housing for homeless and at-risk veterans.
HELP USA will invest more than $23 million at Perry Point Village. They will build 75 apartments that include 44 historic homes that remain on the Perry Point campus. Any newly constructed buildings will mirror the style of the old village houses. There will be 66 one-bedroom apartments, eight two-bedroom apartments and one three-bedroom apartment at Perry Point Village. Apartments will range in size from just more than 660 square feet up to 1,100 square feet.
HELP USA will work with Perry Point VAMC and the VA Maryland Health Care System to identify veterans and their families eligible for the Perry Point Village. Residents will readily access services offered by the Veterans Administration as well as programs HELP USA offers at its facilities.