Cannon Place already a success story for veterans

Cannon Place already a success story for veterans

DANVILLE — Army veteran Sena Legg and her husband, a Marine Vietnam vet, moved to Danville in 2009 so that Robert, who had diabetes, would be close to Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.

After Robert passed away in 2015, Legg, who is disabled, couldn't afford to stay in their apartment. So she either stayed with a friend or lived in her car in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

After about a year of being homeless, Legg was ready to give up. In desperation, she called a VA hotline.

Last September, she connected with a counselor and enrolled in a residential rehabilitation treatment program for former military servicemen and -women who are struggling with mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness, which was launched several years ago to give vets the care and skills they need to get healthy and get their lives back on track.

And in March, she moved into Cannon Place, a new, 65-unit affordable, supportive housing complex on the medical center's grounds — another key piece to ending homelessness among veterans.

"This is my forever home" Legg said at Thursday's ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $17.5 million complex, which drew about 150 people, many of whom helped make it happen.

In July 2015, developer Mercy Housing Lakefront broke ground on the facility, named for Joseph "Uncle Joe" Cannon, who served as a U.S. Congressman from 1873 to 1923 and who, in 1898, helped establish the Danville Soldiers' Home that would become the veterans hospital.

Veterans and their family members, including a few children, began moving into the one-, two- and three-bedroom furnished apartments last September. Amenities include a spacious community room, fitness center, computer center, six residential lounges, on-site laundry facilities, a gazebo, picnic area and raised vegetable garden beds, built and donated by Home Depot.

Residents pay a third of their income toward rent, and the rest is covered with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development vouchers.

"One hundred and one people have found hope here," said Stephanie Young, who became the permanent director of the Illiana facility last June, about five years after the project was first conceptualized.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer recalled that several years ago, medical center staff and other community members hosted an event at the David S. Palmer Arena to provide veterans with a range of services and resources.

"That started the ball rolling for what we have today," he said, adding there were many challenges to getting it approved and financed and even times when it looked as though it would fall through. But everyone worked together to make it happen for "our nation's heroes."

Mark Angelini, Mercy Housing Lakefront president, said he's eager to kick off Phase II, which calls for building another 65-unit complex south of Cannon Place.

"There's clearly a demand for it," he said, adding those residents would also be close to medical and mental health services; Danville Area Community College, where they can continue their education or training; and other supportive services.

"We have to start working up the numbers. Once the financing is put together, it can come together in about 18 months," said Angelini, who hopes to see the next one open in three to five years.

Resident Michael Gibson also spoke at the dedication. The Navy veteran said his life was turned upside down when his best friend — Lt. Sean Christopher Snyder, a Navy pilot and father of four — was killed when his helicopter exploded off the coast of Norfolk, Va., during a training exercise.

The former Bloomington-Normal resident isolated himself and stopped taking medication for PTSD and anxiety. Last July, he called his sister for help, and she brought him to the veteran's hospital, where he began his recovery process.

Gibson, who was close to becoming homeless, moved into the complex in November. He told the crowd that being among fellow veterans has played a big part in his progress.

Now he works in the VA library, volunteers at the Vermilion County Animal Shelter and is on track to become a peer support specialist.

When Legg first moved in, she was terrified of losing her new home. Now she feels more relaxed, thanks to the property manager and social worker, whom she has gotten to know. She enjoys volunteering with seniors, and she's looking forward to start a gardening class next week.

"I would encourage any veteran who needs help to please go to the VA," she said. "They do care about you and will help you. You just have to muster up the courage to ask for help."

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