‘It’s miraculous’: Homeless shelter for veterans has a new look

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — For years, the Veteran’s Outreach Center has run a shelter for vets, off of South Avenue. It’s called Richards House.

Thursday marked the beginning of it’s new life. After more than five years of planning and construction, it has a brand new look.

Organizers said the house provides a special community, for veterans; it’s almost like a family. Some may be struggling with mental illness, addiction or loneliness. The new renovations symbolize hope, and support.

Stephanie Beikirch, daughter of the late army soldier and Vietnam war vet Gary Beikirch, recalls early childhood memories there, when her father was working on the house.

“Memories of my time spent running around that place as a child, and not only did I recall how much of a safety hazard it was at the time — no railings on stairways — I remember that feeling of tangible hope in the air,” she said.

It’s hope that all veterans need. Especially when re-entering society.

“When I was in Afghanistan, we ate together, slept together, spent every minute together” said Alec Andrest, with the Veteran’s Outreach Center. “You were never by yourself. That’s a really harsh contrast to being or feeling alone and not knowing what to do next.”

The house now has a modernized look, with 16 new beds, an elevator, expanded laundry space, and bathrooms.

Director Laura Heltz said the idea to renovate came just before the pandemic. But they had to work around inflation and supply chain issues.

“And we improvised, we dug in, we worked harder, we looked at that challenge as an opportunity to see what we were made of,” she said. “And we raised $7 million for this project.”

In 2022 alone, they had over 9,000 visits, from nearly 2,000 vets. Nearly 200 vets were assisted in finding work.  

Curly Gifford, is a veteran who lived in Richards House for two years. He said it played a major role in getting back on his feet after fighting in Iraq, Korea, and Africa.

“Comradery, comradery is second to none, just like in the service, and when you get out the civilian sector, it doesn’t have that same level of comradery,” said Gifford.

Through support services here, he was able to get connections. He eventually got a degree in physical education and exercise science.

The house used to have 30 beds, but now offers 46.

Heltz said on any given night in Monroe County, there can be around 76 veterans in need of housing. She said it’s an ongoing collaboration with other community organizations to help these veterans find a home.