On the coldest day of 2014 thus far, a few hundred people gathered on the morning of Nov. 18 to celebrate the completion of a new housing development: the Denson Apartments for Veterans.
The construction of the apartment building, located at 1598 Sedgefield St., was overseen and managed by CASA, an organization that builds low-cost housing for people experiencing homelessness and those with few housing options.
Neighbors and locals gathered under a white tent and around the space heaters as city officials, the mayor, representatives from the Home Depot foundation, proud veterans displaying American flags, leaders from CASA and others spoke about the work that went into the apartments and the importance of solving veteran homelessness.
“Imagine having nowhere to go in this kind of weather,” said Debra King, the CEO of CASA, “finding shelter only in temporary or crowding conditions—not a real place where you belong.”
“Anyone who wore a uniform and volunteered to serve us deserves better than this,” she continued, “and I’m proud to be here with so many of you who have worked tirelessly, given generously, pushed through obstacles, kept the faith, and been a part of an enormous circle of people and organizations that have come together to make this happen.”
CASA named the eleven-unit Denson apartment building for Judge Alexander B. Denson, who was honored at the celebration. The organization broke ground on the project in January, King said.
An estimated 2,000 people were declared to be homeless in 2014 in the Triangle area, Durham Mayor William “Bill” Bell told the crowd.
Of those 2,000 people, he said, roughly 250 were veterans.
“I prefer to think of these as homes rather than apartments,” Bell said. “Although they are apartments, it’s really a home.”
Bell said that the City of Durham will also support the construction of the other 12 apartments that will be built on the lot.
King said that 75 percent of the funding for the next 12 apartments is already in place.
CASA anticipates no problems filling the new apartments, with more than 600 people on their waiting list, King said.
According to CASA, residents of the apartments pay a fixed rent, but at a far more affordable rate than most apartment complexes require—just 30 percent of the tenant’s income.
Cedric Page, one of the new residents of the apartments, was more than pleased with the whole project.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “It’s nice to know that somebody cares.”
Page is a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Germany, England and Korea. He connected the issue of veteran homelessness in the U.S. to his experiences abroad.
“In some of the countries I’ve been to,” he said, “you don’t see veterans on the side of the road with signs asking for food or money.”
Page, who recently spent seven months in rehabilitation for an injury, drove home the importance of humanizing kindness toward veterans.
“When you get a visitor and you’re confined to a wheelchair or you’re confined to a bed,” he explained,” just coming to see your people—it’s like Christmas on a Sunday morning.”
When asked whether he hoped to see other projects like this one address veteran homelessness, Page responded, “We need more. I mean, I’ve been homeless, and it’s not no sexy feeling, trust me.”
“You don’t know what you’re gonna do all day in weather like this, and you know, the biggest thing you know eventually is that it’s gonna close,” he continued.
“People are gonna go home. And you’re on the outside looking in. And it’s a darn good feeling to be on the inside looking out,” he said with a smile.
“It gives you a chance to be human again, and I’m grateful for every living soul out here that made this happen. And we need more.”