Hammering echoed down from the corner of Brown and Parrish streets Wednesday afternoon as volunteers toiled to ready a home for its future occupant.
City officials and representatives with the nonprofit Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania (VOAPA) gathered around noon for a ceremony at a home being rehabilitated in Wilkes-Barre as part of a federal program launched earlier this year to shelter some of the area’s homeless veterans and ordained it the David C. Morgan House, named for a fallen veteran native to the city.
The VOAPA has bought 12 housing units in the state for the Homeward Bound program that started in April through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Once renovated, the Brown Street home will be rented to a local veteran and their family.
As part of the program, homes can be named after someone, and Mayor Tom Leighton knew just the person who deserved to receive that honor. He stood next to Peggy and Charlie Morgan, the parents of a U.S. Navy reservist who died in August 2013 from traumatic brain injuries he suffered three years ago while serving in Kuwait, and unveiled the plaque memorializing their son.
“I knew exactly who it was going to be for. It was for David Morgan,” Leighton said.
Leighton said he had met the Morgans in 2012 during a visit to the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Township, where David was undergoing rehabilitation. Inspired by the veteran’s courage and service and by the support of his family and friends, Leighton said he named Morgan grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2013. The following day the city police department also named Morgan, a military police officer, an honorary member.
“We just can’t get over it,” Charlie Morgan said. “It’s just a great honor.”
“We are so grateful to all of you,” Peggy Morgan said. “We can’t thank you enough for all the gratitude that you’ve shown us and all the help you’ve been to our family.”
Leighton said the city is doing its part in beating President Barack Obama’s challenge earlier this year to end veteran homelessness through a HUD initiative. The city’s Office of Community Development began working with the VOAPA to develop affordable housing for veterans and their families, so far securing four properties in the city for the program. The property on Brown Street was the result of a bank foreclosure and was later donated to the city, which in turn donated it to the Homeward Bound program.
Only in the last five years has there been a concerted effort between the government and volunteers organizations to fight veteran homelessness, said Barbara Banaszynski, president of Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania. At that time, there were around 300,000 veterans on the streets in the United States, she said. Now, there are around 40,000.
The housing program is designed to provide an affordable rental solution for veterans that are homeless or eminently homeless through by obtaining properties at base prices from foreclosures or donations from a housing authority or local government. It begins as a rental opportunity to ensure the veteran could sustain the property, then after a year it will be sold to the veteran for the cost of acquisition minus the rent paid.
For more information about the program, contact VOAPA at www.voapa.org or call 717-236-1440.