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Urban Design Students Help Tackle Veteran Homelessness
Indiana Ag Connection - 05/15/2019

Tony Roberts wants to solve veteran homelessness.

With a big heart, charismatic personality, and bold ideas, Roberts can claim many of the required qualifications to lead such a daunting task. But he lacked technical expertise in the areas of developing properties and building communities.

"It is going to take Ball State to make this work," Roberts remembers deciding.

Tony chairs Steadfast Indiana, an organization he started in 2016 to help provide homes for veterans in need. This year, Steadfast partnered with students and faculty from the University's Master of Urban Design (MUD) program to redevelop an abandoned mobile home park in Indianapolis into an attractive and affordable community for veterans.

The urban design program is headquartered in Indianapolis

"We want them to be proud of the place they call home," said urban design student Brendan Cyrus, '18.

In Indianapolis, more than 50 veterans are homeless despite having government vouchers to help them pay for housing, according to Tony.

Some live on the streets. Most live with friends and family, in spare bedrooms and on couches. Others live in motels or missions.

The problem is an inadequate supply of privately owned apartments and homes that meet quality standards for the rental-assistance program known as HUD VASH (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing.)

Roberts formed Steadfast Indiana with a simple mission: Build as much HUD VASH-eligible housing as possible.

Roberts knew the perfect spot for a pilot project -- the former Shady Pines Mobile Home Park, just south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A California bank had taken possession of the property through foreclosure but didn't really want it. It had become an eyesore, and the bank was under pressure to clean it up or face fines.

In spring 2019, Steadfast bought the property at an affordable price.

Enter the College of Architecture and Planning's urban design program, a 32-credit, one-year post-professional degree that blends architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning to make places more functional -- ranging in scope from streets to neighborhoods to whole cities.

The program is headquartered in Indianapolis, a diverse metro area of almost a million residents that gives students real-world experiences addressing urban problems, from homelessness to segregation along class and racial lines.

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