New Veterans Center Opens After Controversy

At first, an Old Town school was not thrilled with its new neighbor

A new facility aiming to prevent homelessness among veterans opened its doors in San Diego Monday, but not without some controversy to start.

The Aspire Center in Old Town is not only a salute to those who have served our country, but also a helping hand in return.

“It's our duty and our responsibility to give back to them,” said Kris Warren, a Social Services Assistant for the center.

The 36-year-old is a Marine Corps Veteran served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Warren said he narrowly escaped homelessness when he got help from the VA in Los Angeles.

“At times you feel abandoned, you feel alone,” he said. "You feel like you serve no purpose, so at times it could be really tough."

The Aspire Center will treat veterans like Warren who also served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The former Thomas Jefferson Law School building now houses 40 beds, 34 of which will go to men and six to women.

Veterans will also receive therapy for PTSD, vocational and occupational rehabilitation, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment.

At first officials and parents at Old Town Academy, a K-8 Charter school across the street, were not too thrilled about their new neighbor.

But after months of meetings with officials from the VA those feelings have changed.

“I think sometimes people get confused, “said Debbie Dominick, Director of the Aspire Center. “When somebody returns home [the thought is that] they need to be left alone, but in actuality what they need is to be back in the milieu."

VA officials say they have also darkened the windows at the Aspire Center so children cannot see inside. They have also added extra security during the day. 

Meanwhile, they are expecting full occupancy in a few weeks.

The school's executive director Thomas Donahue also released the following statement to NBC 7:

"Old Town Academy K-8 Charter is happy to welcome the Aspire Center to the neighborhood. OTA parents, local business and neighborhood representatives, health professionals, and veterans advocates have been working with Aspire Center Director Debbie Dominick and her staff within the framework of the agreement worked out last year with the help of Mayor-Elect Kevin Faulkner and other City Council Members.

"The cooperation has been very fruitful. The city council established Neighborhood Advisory Committee meets monthly and has developed traffic and parking plans, invited the Aspire head nurse and chief police office to join the OTA School Site Safety Committee, arranged a tour of Old Town Academy by 25 Aspire staff members (a number of whom volunteered to help teach seminar and robotics in the school), and is set to work with NAC member Ron Stark, of Stand Down, to expand the school's current fundraising for Wounded Warrior to include the Aspire Center and Veterans Village.

"I think we can speak for the local neighbors, business owners, and school parents to say we are confident that with the relationship we've established through the NAC, the elementary school and the Aspire Center each be able to fulfill their missions while contributing to the community as a whole. As a testament to that good relationship OTA applied for and received a planning grant from Prop Z committee to work toward purchasing and renovating our campus to ensure that we remain here in Old Town for many years."

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