AUGUSTA — A bill that would provide $1 million in state funding to build cabins for homeless veterans at the federal veterans’ hospital at Togus won unanimous approval from a legislative committee on Thursday.

The proposal from Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, could jump-start a stalled fundraising effort for the project from Volunteers of America, a charity trying to spend $4 million to build 21 cabins for homeless veterans in Maine on 11 acres of the VA Maine Healthcare System’s campus between Augusta and Chelsea.

Golden’s bill, which would give the project $1 million in funding that would have to be matched by $3 million in private money, will head to the full Legislature after the recommendation from the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. The charity said the funding probably would make the project go forward.

“I think we’re elevating the conversation, we’re elevating the need and we’re elevating the fact that what we have right now in Maine is not the answer for every family or veteran,” said Julia Wilcock, vice president for business development for Volunteers of America in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont after the vote.

The cabins would be built in a wooded area off South Gate Road, which leads to Route 226 and the nearby Chelsea Elementary School. Volunteers of America opened a similar complex of cabins near the federal veterans’ hospital in Lake City, Fla., in 2008.

The cabins would be situated on a loop road with a mix of one- and two-bedroom options that can accommodate families and a community center. By living on the campus, veterans could get access to VA health and benefit services more easily. Wilcock said veterans would have to pass background checks to live there.

Reducing veteran homelessness has been a priority of the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. From 2010 to 2014, it was reduced by nearly a third, according to the VA. Still, there were 50,000 homeless veterans across the country in early 2014. In Maine, the same federal housing survey found 152 homeless veterans.

Volunteers of America got the lease for the property at Togus in late 2011. The next year, the Home Depot Foundation announced that it pledged $1.37 million to the charity nationwide for projects addressing veteran housing with Volunteers of America saying that included $200,000 for the Togus project.

The charity hasn’t raised private money for the project, Wilcock said. Because of that, she said, Home Depot pulled its funds. However, she said a state contribution probably would bring the foundation back into the fold.

Members of the committee backed the bill unconditionally — Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, called it a “golden idea” — but some were concerned that the funding could get tied up in contentious negotiations about Maine’s next two-year budget. Many proposals are passed by legislators but die because they aren’t funded in the budget.

This isn’t the only way Golden has proposed funding the cabins. He also has proposed a bill that would ask voters to approve a $4 million bond to fund the entire project. Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, said he hoped other methods of funding would be pursued, offering help to “make that happen.”

Golden said if the bill is funded at less than $1 million, “we’ll be happy to get what we do get” in seed money to start recruiting other donors. Still, Wilcock said building new, accessible housing for veterans costs $191,000 per unit, higher than other types of housing, and that the full amount of funding would be ideal.

“We could do with less, but not much less,” she said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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