Kennebec Journal Groundbreaking story
Cabin in the Woods project for homeless vets starts construction at Togus
Officials and veterans celebrated the start of construction of the long-awaited project to provide permanent housing for homeless veterans.
TOGUS — Joseph Robichaud traveled from Biddeford to be a part of the Volunteers of America celebration Friday morning as officials broke ground for the Cabin in the Woods project.
In the works for about seven years, the project will build 22 cabins for homeless veterans on 11 acres at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus campus for which the Volunteers of America Northern New England holds a long-term lease.
MORE ABOUT TOGUS AND THE CABIN IN THE WOODS PROJECT
- Hundreds walk at Togus to raise awareness of homeless veterans
- Groundbreaking set for Friday for homeless veterans housing at Togus
- Improvements made in mental health care at Togus, according to new report
- Chelsea grants final approval for Cabin in the Woods project
- Veterans housing program to receive $100,000 grant
"It's a very good road they did," Robichaud said. "It was winding and troublesome but worth it. It's a good reward for the veterans."
The $4.2 million project will add to the housing options that the Volunteers of America Northern New England will be able to offer homeless veterans in Maine who need help and support.
Cabin in the Woods will consist of 16 one-bedroom cabins, five two-bedroom cabins and a community cabin at the south end of the Togus campus. The housing community is expected to combine accessible health care and services from the Veterans Affairs facility with rural living.
Just two weeks ago, Robichaud moved into his own apartment in Biddeford after spending a year and a half in Huot House. More formally known as Arthur B. Huot Veteran Housing, the Saco facility is a co-ed transitional residential program to help homeless veterans run by Volunteers of America Northern New England. The nonprofit organization also operates the Veterans Career House for homeless male veterans.
"The VOA helped me get out of a sad situation of addiction," Robichaud said. "I've been clean and sober for two and a half years."
Robichaud, who served in the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2002, spent time in Germany before ending his service at his last duty station at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Then the Old Town native wanted to come back to Maine.
"We shouldn't have any homeless veterans," he said. "They fought for the freedoms that everyone has."
Ryan Lilly, director of the Togus system, said to the assembled crowd of more than 120 that when Eric Shinsecki was first appointed to lead the Veterans Affairs Administration, he was struck by contrasting images of veterans — they were brave warriors overcoming hurdles and providing tremendous service to the country, and they were homeless, sometimes suffering from substance abuse and often forgotten.
When Shinsecki announced he wanted to end homelessness among veterans, Lilly said, the VA realized it would have to try new things and reach out to new partners to be successful.
"When you work in federal service," he said, "you learn the value of patience and the value of perseverance."
Lilly was just one of the slate of speakers that included Mike Michaud, a former assistant secretary of the federal Department of Labor and former U.S. representative from Maine's 2nd District who served as chairman and ranking member of the House's Committee on Veterans Affairs; and June Koegel, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Northern New England. Maine first lady Ann LePage, who advocates for military service members and veterans, was also at the event.
The project received its final approvals from the Chelsea Planning Board in February.
Construction is expected to be completed by the end of this year, according to Michael Coon, vice president of external relations for Volunteers of America Northern New England. Applications for prospective tenants will be available starting this summer through both the VA and the Volunteers of America Northern New England.
Cabin in the Woods is expected to be permanent housing, and they will be furnished. With five two-bedroom cabins, the project will be able to accommodate families. All of the cabins will be energy efficient and accessible for people with disabilities.
While Robichaud is settled in Biddeford, he can see the appeal of the setting for the Cabin in the Woods project.
"Biddeford is too big a city for me," he said. "I like my peace and quiet. I am not a social person. I like to stay reclused. "
When construction is finished, he said, he'll be back for the ribbon cutting.
"They are saying November, but I am thinking in December," he said.
Jessica Lowell — 621-5632