INDIANAPOLIS — When Daniel Wetherald got divorced in early 2020, he lost his wife, family and home all at once.
In desperation, the U.S. Army veteran spent his disability check on a plane ticket from Indianapolis to Florida. If he had to live on the streets, Wetherald figured at least he'd be somewhere warm.
"I walked around Florida for a couple of weeks," Wetherald said. "I couldn't get in any shelters or nothing because COVID was locking everything down."
He returned to Indianapolis that summer and with the help of a non-profit he moved into a studio apartment in Veterans Villa in June 2020.
Veterans Villa looks like a typical apartment building, with grass out front and a blacktop parking lot on either side. But it's different because everyone who lives here is a veteran who might otherwise be homeless.
"Most of them either came from Wheeler (Mission), their car, the streets, transitional housing for homeless veterans or another type of shelter," April Vail, HVAF case manager, said.
Vail is stationed in an office inside Veterans Villa. She works with the tenants, helping them with whatever they might need to stayed housed. Her job is equal parts social worker, counselor and dorm mom.
"We normally take the most vulnerable," Vail said. "So if they have eviction history, if they even have a criminal history, a lot of different barriers, that's why we want them to come here because they have no place else to go."
"And if they have no place to go, then we can start rebuilding here."
Owned and managed by the non-profit Helping Veterans and Families of Indiana, Veterans Villa is a 39-unit building near East 38th Street and North Sherman Drive on the east side.
Rent is $525 and month for a studio and $600 for a one-bedroom.
The tenants form their own community of veterans who look out for each other, Vail said. Counseling and support groups, including Vet to Vet, meet regularly in the building.
There's also a food pantry in Veterans Villa, so none of the tenants have to go hungry.
"HVAF is a wonderful program," Wetherald, who served in Iraq as a medic, said. "They try to accommodate people that need the help, that's for sure... I know there's no place around Indianapolis that I'd be getting for as much as I pay here."
HVAF provides temporary housing to more than 120 veterans in 15 properties throughout the city. It's the largest non-profit provider of comprehensive services for veterans in the state, according its website.
About 16 percent of Indianapolis' homeless population are veterans, according to the most recent count conducted in 2021 by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute and the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention.
"We don't really advertise because we get so many referrals," Vail said. Veterans are referred to HVAF through workers at the VA Hospital or outreach teams who visit homeless camps.
The veterans who get help here are battling mental illness, substance use and other issues, Vail said. Many would have a hard time finding an apartment on their own because of things they've done. Most landlords won't rent to a person with a criminal record or who has been evicted in the past.
"The whole idea is to get people into permanent housing," Vail said. "If they have a lot of evictions, criminal history, active substance use and especially mental health issues that are causing a lot of symptomatic problems... they have nowhere to go."
"We need a lot more of these kinds of programs because it's showing to be a real way for people to to dig their heels in, in a good way, and find stability."
For more information, visit HFAV's website at hvafofndiana.org or call 317-951-0688.
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.