First residents move in to new Pittsfield women veterans housing

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PITTSFIELD — After a monthslong delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Army veterans Vicky Perby and Alzina Young finally unpacked their belongings at the Katie Doherty Veterans Village nestled in a tree-filled enclave near the heart of the city.

Seated on the village's back patio under a bright sun Thursday morning, Perby said she spent two years as a cook in the Army, stationed at Fort Devens. The Northampton native lived and worked in Chicopee after serving her country, before moving into Soldier On's transitional housing in Leeds less than two years ago.

There, she met Young and a group of other female veterans, participated in peer-to-peer addiction support groups and gathered regularly for community potlucks where, she said, Young's home cooking was in high demand.

"Soldier On helped me a lot," she said, the organization's Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community visible nearby. "They gave me a chance to move here and live on my own, and still have the support of Soldier On behind me."

Perby and Young were the first two residents to move into Soldier On's cooperative housing units for female veterans, the newest addition to the nonprofit's campus off West Housatonic Street.

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Chief Executive Bruce Buckley said the new housing units were developed with an eye toward the specific challenges its residents face.

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The village houses 14 affordable units and is run as a housing cooperative, allowing residents to accrue an equity stake, according to Soldier On. Caseworkers are available, and a television for telehealth visits hangs on a wall in a room downstairs. The facility is under constant video surveillance.

Speaking generally, Buckley said many women who come to Soldier On are coping with the effects of military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress. He said a top priority is making sure the community gives veterans a sense of security.

The mission of Soldier On, working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies, is to provide homeless veterans with shelter and to support their independence. Completion of the Katie Doherty Veterans Village was scheduled for March, but the project was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, Buckley said.

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"I look at it as kind of a homecoming," he said of move-in day. "They've all had a lot of disappointment, and they've all had a lot of struggle. We're crossing the finish line."

Three more veterans will move into apartments at the village Friday. Casey DiCicco, Soldier On's director of communications, said that four other women living across the state also applied for an apartment.

Current restrictions limiting the size of social gatherings forced Soldier On to delay a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the village, which is named in honor of Catherine Doherty, a consultant to Soldier On who helped develop the women's program.

But, they won't prevent the veterans from gathering for a Memorial Day cookout on the back patio.


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