AUGUSTA — A bill that would provide $1 million in state funding to build cabins for homeless veterans at the federal veterans’ hospital at Togus won unanimous approval from a legislative committee on Thursday.

The proposal from Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, could jump-start a stalled fundraising effort for the project from Volunteers of America, a charity trying to raise $4 million for 21 cabins for homeless Maine veterans on 11 acres of the VA Maine Healthcare System’s campus between Augusta and Chelsea.

Golden’s bill, which would provide the project $1 million in funding that would have to be matched by $3 million in private money, will head to the full Legislature after the recommendation from the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

The charity said the funding probably would be enough to get the project moving.

“I think we’re elevating the conversation, we’re elevating the need and we’re elevating the fact that what we have right now in Maine is not the answer for every family or veteran,” said Julia Wilcock, vice president for business development for Volunteers of America in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, after the vote.

Volunteers of America opened a similar complex of cabins near the federal veterans’ hospital in Lake City, Florida, in 2008.

The cabins would be built in a wooded area off South Gate Road, which leads to Route 226 and the nearby Chelsea Elementary School. There would be a mix of one- and two-bedroom options and a community center.

By living on the campus, veterans could get access to VA health and benefit services more easily. Wilcock said veterans would have to pass background checks to live there.


Reducing veteran homelessness has been a priority of the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs.

From 2010 to 2014, it was reduced by nearly a third, according to the VA. Still, there were 50,000 homeless veterans across the country in early 2014, according to a federal housing survey, and 152 in Maine.

Volunteers of America got the lease for the property at Togus in late 2011.

The next year, the Home Depot Foundation announced that it pledged $1.37 million to the charity nationwide for such projects with Volunteers of America, including $200,000 for the Togus project.

The charity hasn’t raised private money for the project, Wilcock said, and as a result, Home Depot pulled its funds. However, a state contribution probably would bring the foundation back into the fold, she said.

Some committee members were concerned that the proposal might be approved, but die if funding isn’t provided in the next two-year budget.

Golden has also proposed a bill to fund the entire $4 million through a bond that would have to be approved by state voters. Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, said he hoped other methods of funding would be pursued.

Golden said if the bill is funded at less than $1 million, “we’ll be happy to get what we do get” in seed money to start recruiting other donors.

Still, Wilcock said, building new, accessible housing for veterans would cost $191,000 per unit and the full amount of funding would be ideal.

“We could do with less, but not much less,” she said.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

[email protected]