In the News
June 28, 2016
By Randy Billings
Thomas Heights, an 18-unit building of efficiency apartments intended for low-income and homeless veterans, will have a grand opening Wednesday in Portland.
The $3.6 million project at 134 Washington Ave. was led by the nonprofit Avesta Housing, the state’s largest developer of affordable housing. Thomas Heights is named after Thomas Ptacek, a local advocate for homeless veterans.
“I think we came to Tom because he’s just very thoughtful, he’s very positive, and he’s a very caring and compassionate guy,” Avesta President and CEO Dana Totman said. “We really liked the idea that this was a regular guy in the community who is passionate about helping homeless veterans.”
Ptacek, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, served as a psychiatric technician in the Navy during the first Gulf War. After the service, he ended up being homeless. After spending more than a year at the Oxford Street Shelter, he finally secured stable housing through a housing subsidy program for veterans.
In a recent interview with Maine magazine’s “Love Maine Radio,” Ptacek said he took the assistance reluctantly because he never really considered himself a veteran.
“I worked in a hospital,” Ptacek said. “I looked at people who served in combat – a Vietnam combat veteran – that’s a veteran. I’m not that.”
Ptacek became an advocate for the Preble Street’s Homeless Voices for Justice. In that role, he spoke out against policies and proposals at the state and local level that would decrease the amount of affordable housing or emergency assistance for people struggling with homelessness. He now works as a full-time community organizer for Preble Street.
In 2012, he spoke out against the loss of 52 low-income apartments in the former Eastland Hotel, which has since been converted to a Westin. That same year, he testified against a voter ID bill that would have required people to show photo identification in order to vote.
In 2013, he was front and center during the debate over whether the state should expand MaineCare under the Affordable Care Act. The next year he was speaking out against the state moving the Department of Health and Human Services offices from Marginal Way in Portland to near the Portland International Jetport. He also protested a proposal by Portland officials to close an emergency overflow shelter in response to a critical state audit.
Ann Woloson, a policy advocate for Maine Equal Justice Partners, which advocates for low-income Mainers, became emotional when discussing Avesta’s decision to honor Ptacek.
“He’s worked so hard to climb out of poverty and has been willing to share his story,” Woloson said. “But he’s also had access to resources. Those resources are so important.”
Being a veteran, or homeless, is not a requirement to live at Thomas Heights. Half of the tenants are veterans, according to Avesta. The only requirement is that individual annual incomes of tenants must be 40-50 percent of the area medium income, or no more than $27,000. There are nearly 110 people on a waiting list for one of the apartments.
Peter Snow is one of the lucky ones. The 38-year-old moved into his second-floor efficiency apartment in April. The former lobsterman works part time at Pizza Hut and receives Social Security for a disability.
Snow said he works regularly with his counselor, who has access to meeting space in the building, to ensure he goes to his appointments and can carry out the basic functions of living. A chart of daily chores, including showering, cleaning and taking out the trash, hangs on his wall, and a weekly meal planner hangs on his fridge. His apartment is large enough for a bed, chair, television and a small workbench, where he tinkers on remote-controlled trucks.
“It’s nice. I like it a lot,” Snow said. “I’ve been pretty lucky.”
Behind the Scenes
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