10 years at Piquette Square: Two veterans look back

July 14th, 2020
Deb Brush and Rob Vinson are formerly homeless veterans who have lived at Piquette Square since in opened in 2010.

Deb Brush remembers the feeling of anticipation as if it were yesterday. Not ten years ago, when she was among the first veterans entering Piquette Square and exiting homelessness.

“I was excited and scared at the same time,” said Deb, 63. “I was excited to have a place to live. I was scared because this was new for everyone.”

Piquette Square for Veterans opened in the summer of 2010. The $23M new-construction project has 150 one-bedroom apartments. It provides permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans. The facility is near the New Center area in Detroit and is one of the largest of its kind in the country. In addition to the apartments, it has common spaces, a computer lab, a library, and a spacious park with community gardens and recreational opportunities. It is regarded as a model in the campaign to end veteran homelessness in the country and our community.

This is a photo of the first group of veterans coming to live at Piquette Square and receiving an orientation from Paul McNeil (pointing), who was property manager at Piquette Square when it opened in June 2010. Deb Brush is seated next to Paul.

Deb is among 27 veterans who have lived at Piquette Square since it opened. She served 11 years in the Army in the medical and dental fields. After her service, she became a dental assistant. During the recession in 2008, she lost her job and was unable to find another one. After her savings ran out, Deb went to the VA Domiciliary in Detroit, where she stayed for eight months before coming to Piquette Square.

Rob Vinson has also been at Piquette Square since it began. Like Deb, he is 63. Rob joined the Army when he was 17. He was part of the 11th Armored Calvary and he served in Vietnam as American forces were withdrawing. In Vietnam, an explosion caused him to lose hearing in his right ear. He left the Army after serving for 17 months.

“The one regret I have about my military service is that I didn’t make it a career,” Rob said. “But I was young and homesick, so I decided to leave.”

Rob worked a number of jobs after the Army. He was an autoworker, a security guard, and a direct care worker in a group home for 15 years. Then a series of financial and life challenges resulted in his homelessness.

“I desperately needed to get my life back on track when I arrived at Piquette Square,” Rob said. “I was depressed, my mother was dying of a disease, and I had no relationship with three of my four daughters. I had to admit to myself that I needed to change.”

Rob credits the counselors and staff at Piquette Square for their encouragement and support to change his life and improve his relationships with loved ones and others.

“They reminded me that I’m a soldier and soldiers don’t give up the fight,” Rob said. “Once you’ve been in the military and served overseas, it stays with you the rest of your life and you can rely on it.”

Rob now has good relationships with all his daughters and his grandchildren. He has strengthened his faith and his connection to his church. With the help of his counselors, he has secured his benefits and is financially stable.

“Living at Piquette Square has changed my life tremendously,” Rob said. “I truly believe that coming here is what God intended for me.”

Rob has been active in the volunteer opportunities at Piquette Square. He has served in the tenant council, and he was also part of the Piquette Square Honor Guard.

Deb has been a member of the Honor Guard since it formed at Piquette Square in 2011.

“I joined because I wanted to give back and it’s a privilege to carry the colors,” Deb said. “When we honor somebody else, we get honor back.”

As she participates in the Honor Guard, Deb is completely focused on the duty she is fulfilling. Being a veteran is fundamental to her personal identity.

“I feel really Army at heart,” Deb said. “It means having a strong sense of responsibility for being there when someone needs you. It means being strong and being honest. It also means not being entitled to things because you served your country.”

Deb has been in the same apartment at Piquette Square for all ten years. On her walls are artistic photographs and drawings that she has created and framed.

“They are an expression of who I am and how I see the world,” Deb said. “They also express that I am home.”

To see a photo essay (on our Facebook page) celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Piquette Square for Veterans, click here.

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