Gregory H. Crawford, Executive Director of Access Housing Inc., which operates Chesapeake House and the Southeast Veterans Service Center, said money will be used to replace the roof and flooring, fix bathrooms and improve the security at the facility that opened in 1999.
“Our mission is to provide safe and affordable housing for the male and females who sacrifice so much,” said Crawford, whose father, former D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford, was inspired to open the center after he saw veterans living under interstate bridges only blocks from Congress and cooking food on hot plates. His son said, “Nobody should live like that.”
As he dined with the other people, Randy Snodgrass, a Navy veteran, expressed his gratitude for having a place to stay. “This is a godsend and it keeps me off the street.”
The Home Depot Foundation donated $100,000 and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation donated $25,000 for the renovation that will be completed by Ridge Roofing, Arthur’s Flooring and Mtech Securities. Following the award announcement, the business owners dined with the veterans.
“Sometimes corporations get a bad rap but this shows that they really care,” said John N. Miller, 92, a World War II veteran who participated in the D-Day invasion. He is the most well- known resident of a gated two-building campus that feels a bit like a military base as many veterans move around in a casual military cadence.
North served in the Army from 1963 to 1966. He said after his discharge, he moved back to D.C. where he worked for many years until he lost his vision. North said he was living in Northeast Washington until a fire destroyed his apartment and he had to move. After living at several locations, a long-time friend, Al Vaughn, found out about the Southeast Veterans Service Center.
“He has been a good friend,” said North. “He called and got me some care.” Vaughn, a Prince Hall Mason and member of Hiram Lodge #4, said, “I had to do something because something had to be done.”
Jacqueline Brown, the social worker at the Southeast Veterans Service Center, said the veterans who come to the facility often have many needs. “I see a lot of them who are depressed or have post-traumatic stress or mood disorder.”
But 55-year-old Billy Blackwell is a success story.
“I was Navy veteran who worked in corporate America but things happened and I ended up homeless,” said Blackwell, who came the facility as a resident in 2012. “I am witness that this program works if people are serious about changing. They offer transportation and counseling for permanent housing and employment.”
Today, Blackwell is a member of the staff of Access Housing as an executive assistant who comes to work every day in a suit and tie. He said of the program, “It changed me and got me back on my feet.”