Catholic Charities Report
A New Era for Liberty House
By Gary Bouchard
The final pieces of new exterior siding had just gone up when we spoke to Jeff Nelson on a bright sunny day in late February, and he sounded like the most ecstatic new homeowner in New Hampshire. It’s not the completion of his own home that he’s so excited about. Rather, it’s the renovation of Catholic Charities New Hampshire’s Liberty House, a residential facility supporting homeless and at-risk veterans – many in recovery – by connecting them to available resources and providing safe, substance-free transitional housing.
When Liberty House became a program of Catholic Charities NH in fall 2019 with the intention of re-locating into the former Bishop Peterson Residence in Manchester, Jeff and his team began to envision a future of new possibilities for the New Hampshire veterans they serve. Since then, they have worked tirelessly to see their vision for a new and substantially larger Liberty House come to fruition, an outcome which, paradoxically, was both hampered and enabled by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Beautiful! Unbelievable!” says Jeff, who is the program’s executive director, as he looks around at “our new digs.”
“We are very blessed! We came from a building that was in rough shape and needed a lot of work, with a basement that flooded routinely. We were cramped into 3,700 square feet without so much as a dining room table,” he says. Today, the renovated 16,000-square-foot facility has a dining room that seats 36 and a recreation room with tables to play pool, ping-pong and foosball. An art therapist from the nearby Currier Museum gives classes in the art room. Other amenities include a lounge area, small library, fitness equipment and two computers where veterans can search for jobs, housing and apply for benefits.
Getting to this new place – where services for Granite State veterans can now be greatly expanded – has been no simple journey during the pandemic. The renovation took place in two phases. Phase 1 received a significant boost last June when an anonymous Catholic Charities donor made a successfully matched $250,000 gift that financed the renovation of all upstairs resident rooms and bathrooms, including much-needed upgrades to electrical, security, technology, furnaces and plumbing. “We had to be out of our old facility by Sept. 1, so this gift was crucial,” Jeff recalls. The move itself was no easy undertaking. “Our staff was phenomenal,” Jeff says. “While taking care of our residents in the midst of Covid, they did all the packing, moving and cleaning, and then to save significantly on construction costs, they did all of the demolition work at the new facility.”
Phase 2 of the renovation called for construction of a large recreation room and common facilities. Liberty House again benefited from those who saw the value of its mission. After Congress approved the CARES Act last spring, Gov. Chris Sununu designated $4 million in federal aid to help veterans impacted by the pandemic and appointed Swim with a Mission, a charitable organization affiliated with the Navy SEALS, to distribute the money. Swim with a Mission identified Liberty House as a worthy recipient and steered $1 million to complete all Phase 2 renovations.
“It was a Godsend,” Jeff says, noting that this enabled them to complete the $1.5 million renovation without borrowing.
Now, standing amidst the newly renovated facility, Jeff and his staff are “waiting for government emergency orders to lift to be able to open up Liberty House to many more veterans.” The vision in joining Catholic Charities NH was to expand the populations served by Liberty House to include seniors, disabled veterans, and those in transition (vets who have a documented place to live, and need a temporary place to stay while they are waiting for that to come available). “We think we can house between 18 and 22 individuals at a time,” says Jeff, noting that hosting non-residents in the new facility is another huge benefit to the new Liberty House.
“More and more vets are starting to come around for our food and clothing services. Once the pandemic eases, we look forward to opening up to men and women who come around regularly, veterans who are not at risk and have been successful in their own lives and can intermingle with those who have had struggles.
“Vets love vets,” Jeff says, “and they have a special place in one another’s hearts.” They also have a special place in the new Liberty House.