Everyone, including Veterans, needs access to safe and stable housing. But some people need emotional and mental health support as well — especially during the period of social and economic stress that has come with the coronavirus pandemic. Since its opening on Veterans Day in 2016, the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence has provided Veterans with community-based housing that includes an on-site case management team – consisting of two social workers, nurse, and peer support specialist – to address each Veteran’s mental and physical barriers to finding a permanent home.
The Veterans who live at the Conway Residence become part of a community of their peers while developing a strong support system. The program team organizes social coffee groups, relaxation groups, and Veteran-led peer groups that foster a sense of independence and community. The program also forms community partnerships, most recently an arrangement with the Humane Rescue Alliance to bring animals into the building for Veterans to play with and enjoy as a source of comfort.
Strong Bonds and New Projects
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the residents stepped up to care for one another and continued developing strong bonds through the troubling times. Residents checked in with neighbors, and some volunteered to grocery shop for their fellow Veterans.
“One resident, Michael Taylor, jump-started a project that had everyone making ‘thank you’ signs for essential workers and nurses, which hung in the building’s windows,” said Nina Davis, Conway Residence Social Worker. “The project brought a little light to what was a really difficult time.”
Since its inception, the program has brought residents together on numerous projects to foster feelings of independence and community. One such project was a mural completed in September of 2020 by artist Kate DeCiccio. The residents were involved in every step of the process. The mural features portraits of the building’s residents and scenes from their daily lives.
In addition to Michael Taylor, other Veterans featured in the mural include Roger Davis, a Washington D.C. local and resident since 2017; Rosalind (Roz) Stewart, a resident since 2018 and one of the first 20 people to move into the building; Ray Brown, a resident since 2017 and avid Washington Nationals fan; Glenn Jones, a music lover and self-proclaimed tech-junky; and Michael Gatlin, Wendell Banks, Margaret McLean, Vanessa Brent, William Chase, Leslie Ford and Edward Robinson.
Most importantly, the mural captures the sense of camaraderie and friendship that the Conway Residence has brought into the lives of Veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Click here to see the finished product.
The Conway Residence was co-developed by Community Solutions, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness, and McCormack Baron Salazar, a developer of affordable urban housing, with funding and support from over 10 different agencies and organizations. The residence has 60 units specifically for Veterans experiencing extended homelessness who use vouchers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) collaborative HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program.
The HUD-VASH program combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services, providing Veterans and their families with the necessary tools to permanently exit homelessness. Among the VA continuum of care programs, HUD-VASH enrolls the largest percentage of Veterans in need of housing, with 83,684 vouchers in use at the end of 2019.
- For more information on the HUD-VASH program, visit VA’s HUD-VASH program site.
- Check out VA’s Get Involved page to learn how you or your organization can help.
- Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
Nina Davis is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked at the John and Jill Ker Conway residence since its opening in 2016.