Vets center supporters meet congressmen | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vets center supporters meet congressmen

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 6:52 AM

Supporters of a new Main Street location for a center for vets seeking counseling and a variety of day services met yesterday with Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, an opponent of the Main Street location, and House VA Committee Chair Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, brought down by Griffin to buttress his attack on the VA for considering the location.

A release follows on the meeting by Kathy Wells, Robert Johnston and Herb Rule with the congressmen, though it doesn't mention a congressional response.

Griffin is going to line up some politically sympathetic vets this morning to cover him on a fight, which — if successful — will add another year or so to the VA's six-year search for better quarters for vets. The VA has been opposed at every turn by government officials — like Griffin and Mayor Mark Stodola — who speak out of the other side of their mouth about their reverence for veterans. The congressmen will meet later today with VA officials and then hold a news conference at 11 a.m. at which they are likely to say the problem is the VA, not veterans. Our vets should be happy to take a location as far as possible from human eyes except those in a neighborhood with no clout, such as that around the woeful site the city chose (without public notice) for a homeless center for non-vets on Confederate Boulevard.

Another supporter of the vets center suggests a viewing of this video on Kipling's tribute to the forgotten vets of the Light Brigade. He put together the tribute above.

ALSO: Here's a letter from almost 50 people, including several local clergy, backing the Main Street location.


Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator John Boozman, and Second Dist. Congressman Tim Griffin of Little Rock, met this evening with supporters of the proposed relocation to Main and 10th St. of the Vet Drop In Day Treatment Center, currently operating at Second and Ringo St.

“We appreciated the chance to present our views and information to congressional leaders weighing the merits of the proposed relocation,” said Kathy Wells, a downtown resident and relocation supporter, as well as a long-time civic activist who has worked with service providers to the homeless for years.

She pressed officials considering the mayor’s call for a joint operation of the VA program for the homeless and Little Rock city programs to require funding parity, since today the federal budget supplies vastly more money and staff than the city does.

“It would be bad policy to bring all together, then grant services to veterans, and deny many of the same services to non-veterans,” Ms. Wells said, “and clearly more and better services are needed for all the homeless in our community today.” She noted a count showed 20 percent of the area homeless are veterans, so a minority has well-funded services, while the majority 80 percent of the homeless gets along with reduced resources.

Dr. Robert Johnston, who also has lived downtown for decades, is an Army veteran and a former state legislator, said, “The Vet Center would be a positive, not a negative, addition to the neighborhood.” The commercial location has nearby vacant buildings today, said Johnston, a founder of Feed the Hungry, which serves the homeless breakfast five mornings a week. He noted lack of notice to the public before selecting a site for a facility for the homeless had been practiced by city officials as well as VA officials - the city center at 3000 Confederate Blvd. was announced as fact, the same as the Vet Ctr. at 1000 Main St., without any advance discussion.

Herb Rule, a Marine veteran, a lawyer with a downtown office, and a former state legislator, spoke from his knowledge gained working with the Stewpot lunch program for the homeless that began in 1978 at Eighth and Scott St., at the First Presbyterian Church. “The best idea is to let the negotiation process between the sides play out,” he said. He asked officials to defer to the expertise of local VA staff. He pointed out the need to combine three separate locations into one was driving this proposal, and said he supported this efficiency move. He also called attention to the address being “in an accessible part of town” for veterans to reach readily. In addition, this location is back to back with an Alcoholics Anonymous program that has had no problems, he said.
# # #

Dr. Robert Johnston is an Army Veteran [Airborne and Ranger] who spent two weeks in the swamps of Eglin Air Base[1st District Florida] in April 1965 during Ranger training [and has since visited the Emerald Coast several times].

His military service included 3 years teaching at US Military Academy, West Point N.Y. He was 8 years a State Representative, 6 years Chair of the AR Public Service Commission, and 4 years a consultant to USAID. He has worked with Republican legislators and Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee [3 years as Assoc. Dir.of the AR Dept of Higher Educ]

He was a licensed real estate broker, listing and selling historic properties in the Downtown Neighborhood. He was an investor in the Downtown Development Corp. which bought, rehabbed, and resold historic structures. He was active in Historic Preservation for many years, including 6 years on the Board of the Quapaw Quarter Association and 2 years as President.

He has lived 40+ years within a few blocks of 10th and Main, including one and four blocks away. He has worked in offices within a few blocks of 5th and Main. He knows the Central Business District well and the area around 10th and Main very well.

He has volunteered with Stew Pot, which for 35 years has been feeding the needy from 3 blocks away from 10th and Main. Stew Pot is a coalition of 14 churches. He regularly walks, jogs, and drives the 16 blocks around 10th and Main.

He is founder and volunteer coordinator of ‘Feed the Hungry’, which [for 7 years] feeds breakfast five days a week/ 52 weeks a year/ holidays included to 100-120 needy in various downtown locations. His statement is below:=========

Dear Chairman Miller and Congressman Griffin:

I earnestly urge your support for the Veterans Center at 10th and Main. The need is great and the site is appropriate.

Main from Markham to Roosevelt is commercial. To 11th it is part of the Central Business District. Main St. in the Central Business District has been in substantial decline for 2+ decades. About 80% of the frontage on Main to 11th is abandoned buildings or vacant lots, some with parking. There is a budding restaurant district for 4-5 blocks south of 11th, but it is separated by the superblock bridge of I630.

The finger of a small marginal residential neighborhood to the east approaches to within 1 or 1.5 blocks on Scott, consists of 7 structures, mainly multifamily, with offices and vacant lots equal to the residential.

The Vet Center will be a positive, not negative, addition to the neighborhood. I can provide you a link to a man who has lived half a block from the existing center and swears there have been ‘no problems’ / ‘NO PROBLEMS’
It is a false issue/ red herring/ straw man to say the VA did not consult with DNA about plans to relocate to this site. The Wolfe Street Foundation [Day Center for RECOVERING ALCOHOLICS] did not do that with its operation almost in the same spot [adjacent, across alley to west]. The City did not consult with neighbors before locating its Homeless Breakfast Center near Union Station or the Day Resouce Center at River City Ministries/ NLR or at 3000 Confederate. Neither the City nor the DOD consulted or informed the DNA before conducting midnight War Games for 3 hours over thousands of residences

It is time to put this fallacious controversy to bed and get on with taking care of our veterans. The Iraq War is not over. The Afghanistan War is not over. The Vietnam War is not over…. not as long as we have veterans who need care.

Robert Johnston

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