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Posted: July 19, 2010

EDITORIAL

Embrace social projects like Piquette

Detroit is not the first place people look to for models of social programs that work. Still, there are plenty of examples of nonprofits partnering with government to make a difference.


The city's newest model of excellence is Piquette Square for Veterans, a 150-unit project providing long-term housing and care for homeless veterans on formerly blighted and abandoned property. The 400 people who celebrated its opening on Thursday included U.S. Assistant Veteran Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth.

Southwest Solutions, a nonprofit agency that has developed 400 affordable housing units in Detroit, owns the $23-million project. It was financed with tax credits, bonds and grants. Previously homeless veterans will pay no more than 30% of their income for rent.

Innovative financing plans that use tax credits and other public/private partnerships are especially needed when public dollars are scarce. Piquette Square takes a comprehensive and holistic approach to homelessness, providing not only shelter but counseling, job training, computer classes and other support services that help veterans become independent.

The new four-story brick building has 150 affordable one-bedroom units and 11,000 square feet of common area and commercial space, including a library, lunch rooms and a computer lab. It's on the site of the historic Studebaker factory near the New Center, which a fire destroyed in 2005.

Piquette Square has already become a magnet and focal point for community involvement, attracting contributions and donations such as quilts, coffee makers, linen, toasters and food from dozens of groups and clubs, including veterans organizations.

Nationwide, more than 100,000 veterans are homeless, including more than 4,000 in the Detroit area. "It's unconscionable," said John Van Camp, president and CEO of Southwest Solutions.

Piquette may be the largest project of its kind in the country. More important, it is one of the most effective and innovative, providing a model for Detroit, and the nation, of how private and public agencies can work with the community to help citizens who have fallen to the bottom of the economic ladder become self-sufficient and whole again.

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A version of this story appears on page 12A of the Monday, July 19, 2010, print edition of the Detroit Free Press.

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