Rockville's Phelps Mansion morphs into home for veterans

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Rockville - posted Fri., Aug. 30, 2013
Several veterans look on at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Chrysalis Center's facility at the Phelps Mansion, which will house 10 veterans in need, in Rockville on Aug. 28. Photos by Steve Smith.
Several veterans look on at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Chrysalis Center's facility at the Phelps Mansion, which will house 10 veterans in need, in Rockville on Aug. 28. Photos by Steve Smith.

“There should be no such thing as a homeless veteran,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “We are the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are free because of the brave men and women who have served in uniform, risked their lives, answered the call, and who have dedicated their lives to keeping us free. They shouldn't be homeless. That ought to be a contradiction in terms.”

Blumenthal was among dignitaries who spoke at the open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the Chrysalis facility in the former Phelps Mansion in the Rockville section of Vernon on Aug. 28. The former Phelps Mansion, at 1 Ellington Ave., has received renovations over the past two years, in conjunction with Bellsite, LLC – owned by William J. Bellock.

Maryellen Shuckarow – chief develpment officer for Chrysalis – said the opening of the center was a proud day for Rockville, and thanked Bellock for having the vision to take the dilapidated building and make it into something to serve veterans in need. “He is the man who had the vision to drive by the property four years ago, and came to us and said, 'We need to do something,'” Shuckerow said. “We are honored to serve those who have served our country.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2), a Vernon resident, said he was glad to see the “architectural gem,” which had fallen into disrepair, rejuvenated. “To make really decent, appropriate living quarters for the people who have worn the uniform of this country is a really proud moment for the town of Vernon, and everybody who worked hard to come together,” Courtney said.

The Rockville Chrysalis facility will retain the official name of the “Phelps Mansion.” Charles Phelps was the first attorney general of Connecticut, and was the original resident of the mansion. The mansion has also been home to offices for doctors and lawyers over the years, but was in a state of disrepair for a number of recent years.

Vernon Mayor George Apel said he had personal connections to the building. “My lawyer was here,” he said. “My doctor was here. I visited this place when I was 5 or 6 years old, because my grandmother was a friend of the housekeeper here.”

Vernon residents Carl and Pauline Schaefer were acknowledged for their contributions to the project, including a large amount of fundraising, and were presented with a plaque dedicating one of the rooms to them.

Shuckerow said Chrysalis will be a good neighbor in Rockville. “We're here to become part of the fabric in your community,” she said. “We are grateful for your gracious support, for your trust in our ability to do the right thing.”

Shuckerow said the home will be a national model to end homelessness in the country. Blumenthal agreed, adding that he hoped others in Washington see Connecticut's model, and learn from it.

Ten homeless veterans will be housed in individual apartments within the mansion. The carriage house on the same property is already home to seven veterans, as it has been for about three years. The veterans pay a scaled rent, based on a portion of their income, and for some that means the rent is free, according to Project Manager Abbie Kelly. There is no end-date for the veterans' stays, but the idea is that the homes are temporary. While at the residence, veterans will receive support services, including employment and mental health services. Two on-site case managers will be stationed at the facility, as well as a supervisor, who will live there around the clock.

Kelly said veterans have to meet certain requirements, including a mental health or substance abuse disability diagnosis, and then go through a screening and interview process. “We're looking for veterans who kind of fell on bad times, and need some safe, stable housing,” Kelly said. “Every study shows that you need support. You can't just throw someone in housing. You need support services. It's a hand-up, not a handout.”

The 10 initial Phelps Mansion residents are all male, and will begin moving in on Sept. 3.

Future plans include the construction of another building on the property, which will house four handicapped veterans.

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