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Beacon update: There's fresh paint, but the rules still apply at Hence Forland's home for veterans

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 25, 2009 - Hence Forland's house on Windsor Place is freshly painted and tastefully furnished now, but the rules for the homeless veterans who live here haven't changed since last summer's highly publicized cable TV makeover:

Residents must still cover food when using the microwave, no washing dishes in the bathtub -- and respectful behavior is required in the home and neighborhood, just blocks from the John Cochran VA Medical Center where Forland used to work.

And Forland, a Desert Storm veteran, still talks from his heart about opening his home to "lost" veterans so they have a clean, safe place to live for up to a year while they get their lives back on track.

The house can accommodate four veterans who pay no rent but must contribute to utilities and house expenses. Forland helps them find assistance through local veterans and community agencies, but more importantly, he lends an understanding ear.

"They want somebody to sit down and talk to them. They know they can count on me as a veteran myself," he said.

Forland's Windsor Transitional Home was one of eight community veterans homes chosen by HGTV to compete for two $40,000 remodels, determined by viewers' votes. The St. Louis affiliate of Rebuilding Together, a national volunteer organization, coordinated the local voting drive and also the work on the project.

The remodel far exceeded Forland's original wish list for new electrical wiring and plumbing and repairs to the back porch.

The century-old house was given an extreme makeover: pleasant paint schemes, new ceilings, an updated kitchen and comfortable living room furniture. The house is a far cry from the age-worn place that Forland used for storage until he decided to take in homeless veterans he spotted living in vacant buildings in the neighborhood.

HGTV provided the designs for the remodel, but the work was done by St. Louisans, said Dave Ervin, executive director of Rebuilding Together-St. Louis, which repairs homes for low-income, senior and disabled St. Louisans.

Several hundred volunteers, including local trade unions, stepped forward with their time and expertise, and local companies donated materials, boosting the remodel value to about $250,000.

"It's a powerful volunteer base," Ervin said.

The organization usually repairs about 180 homes a year, though not on the scale of this project. The high-profile nature of the project has helped get the word out to other people in need, Ervin said.

"This has helped us identify more veterans -- senior veterans, disabled veterans -- who are in need," he said. "They may own their homes, but the homes can be in disrepair. One of our priorities is to be able to reach out and help more veterans."

Read earlier Beacon stories below. 

Hence Forland Jr. was all smiles Friday as a swarm of volunteers took over his house of dreams on Windsor Place, armed with saws, hammers and paint.

For two years, Forland, 57, has been pouring his own money and sweat equity into the aging house he opened to homeless St. Louis veterans in need of transitional housing. The brick two-story, which is just down the street from the John Cochran VA Medical Center in north St. Louis' 19th ward, was in dire need of rewiring and plumbing work -- and even ceilings -- until the remodeling began, thanks to volunteers from the nonprofit Rebuilding Together-St. Louis and a $40,000 prize from cable station HGTV's "Change the World Campaign."

Forland's house was one of eight community veterans homes nationwide that competed for online votes and was declared a winner in March, thanks to the local publicity campaign mounted by Rebulilding Together. Local trade unions have also stepped forward to volunteer their time and expertise with repairs, stretching the amount of work that can be accomplished with the funds.

Laura Hurt, acting executive director of Rebuilding Together, stressed that it was the efforts of local volunteers that has made the project such a success, including weeks of prep work done in advance of this weekend's remodeling blitz, which is being filmed by HGTV for a future telecast.

Forland, an Army veteran of Desert Storm, invites homeless veterans to live for a time in his three upstairs bedrooms, while they "get back on track."

"I think everybody needs some kind of structure and neatness to get back on track in their lives,'' Forland told the Beacon in January.

The excited Forland, who has been banned from the inside of his house until Sunday's "reveal," said he hasn't even peeked in the windows. He is thrilled that so many volunteers have stepped forward to help him with his dream of helping veterans.

"My knees -- my legs -- buckled for the first time. I used to box. But this punch came, and my knees gave out,'' Forland said. "It showed me how awesome and great is this world that people are coming together for my vision.''

Hurt said about 80 volunteers were working to complete the project this weekend.

"It's neat to do this, great to be able to help, said volunteer Ed Keady, 48, of Ballwin, who was installing crown molding in an upstairs bedroom that just weeks ago didn't have a ceiling because of water damage.

Keady, the director of benefits for Schnucks, said he took a day off from work to help out because he enjoys being able to use his skills to help others.

"It gives me a good feeling,'' he said.

Lynne Rajani of Rebuilding Together-St. Louis was keeping a secret that she knows will make a $40,000 difference to a St. Louis man who is on a crusade to help area homeless veterans.

Rajani, executive director of the volunteer organization, said the group found out mid-week that Hence Forland's house on Windsor Place in north St. Louis' 19th ward, is one of two winners of remodeling funds in HGTV's "Change the World" campaign. The results were announced by the cable network Sunday night.

Click here to watch the HGTV episode of the remodel.F

or two years, Forland has been pouring his own money and sweat equity into the aging house, which he has opened to veterans. Rajani was determined that Forland wouldn't hear the news before the announcement.

"He could never keep this a secret,'' she said.

Forland's house was one of eight community veterans homes nationwide competing for online votes. All of the homes were guaranteed at least $5,000 from HGTV, and local trade unions have stepped forward to volunteer their time and expertise with repairs, stretching the amount of work that can be accomplished with the funds. But $40,000 will allow much more extensive work to be done, Rajani said.

Forland's wish list includes updated electrical wiring and plumbing, plus repairs to the back porch. But the home also needs new ceilings, floors and lots of paint.

Forland, an Army veteran of Desert Storm, lets homeless veterans live for a time in his three upstairs bedrooms, while they "get back on track." In return, he asks the residents to abide by his simple rules, ranging from "respect each other'' to no drugs, weapons or cooking or smoking in bedrooms. He also asks that they chip in on utilities.

"I think everybody needs some kind of structure and neatness to get back on track in their lives,'' Forland, 57, told the Beacon in January.

Forland said he bought the house, which is more than a century old, about 20 years ago and used it for storage until 2007 when he realized it could provide shelter for the homeless veterans he was accustomed to seeing in his neighborhood. He paid for a new roof, bought a new furnace and began to scavenge for donated furnishings.

Monica Carroll, a full-time AmeriCorps volunteer with Rebuilding Together, has been working with Forland on the project and is impressed with his hard work.

"When I talked to him today he was landscaping the front yard with some landscaping bricks that someone had donated to him,'' Carroll said. "He's always working to make the house better.''

Rajani credits the St. Louis network of volunteers who voted daily in the HGTV contest -- and who encouraged their friends and relatives to join the effort.

"It was just contagious,'' she said.

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