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Middlebrook Gardens



The Helen Ross McNabb Center recently opened its third veterans housing project. The opening of Middlebrook Gardens brings the number of units available to veterans who might otherwise be homeless to 33. Cedar Crossing, which opened in 2014, has eight units; Washington Oaks, which opened in 2015, added 15 units. Middlebrook Gardens has space for 10 veterans.

Residents at Middlebrook Gardens have their own one-bedroom apartments. The residents are nine veterans who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. A resident manager occupies the tenth apartment.

Peter Schwark, the resident manager at Middlebrook Gardens, understands the population he serves. Schwark, an Air Force Translator, Army 2B Special Operations Group, grew up in New Orleans with three siblings. He has children, ranging in age from 36-40, who live all across the U.S. He comes from a military family

“My father has every medal except for the Distinguished Flying Cross,” said Schwark. “He has Air Medal Croix de Guerre from France and was in the Berlin Air Lift.

“My ethnic heritage is German, Cherokee, Yugoslavian and American. Growing up I learned English first, and my mother often spoke to me in Yugoslavian, as well as Cherokee, Russian and French which helped in the military and led me to being a translator."

“After I graduated from tech school, I was stationed in Athens, Greece,” he continued. “In Athens I did security service and assisted in translating as well as aviation services. I served in Bosnia as a translator in Yugoslavian. I was also stationed in Iran and assisted in evacuating military personnel from Iran. I was an expert in hand-to-hand combat and a combat medic.”

“Being in the military provided me with excellent training and an opportunity to travel. You can transfer nearly all your military skills into civilian life.”

After leaving the military, Schwark said he “worked a caterpillar in Illinois, worked in the tool room and did plant maintenance. I was a boat captain off the Louisiana coast. I have been a fishing and hunting guide. I have also taught survival skills classes.”

When a medical procedure left him unable to pay his rent, working with his Veterans Affairs Case Manager, he was able to find housing at Washington Oaks. In September Schwark moved into Middlebrook Gardens as its resident manager.

“I like it here,” he said. “It is beautifully landscaped, quiet and peaceful. And I get to talk with veterans on a daily basis and help them out as much as I can.”

Each apartment has a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. Through community donations, veterans have been provided with kitchen and bath supplies: small appliances, cleaning supplies, dishes, towels, sheets, etc.. Each apartment is fully furnished. The Military Services building operated by the Helen Ross McNabb Center is conveniently located next door to the residential units.

The property currently has a walking trail and will ultimately have a pavillion and raised beds. The landscaping was done by volunteers, a local group of Eagle Scouts and their families, led by Levi Bohne and his father Jason Bohne. The materials for the project were donated by Acadia Landscaping, and the landscape design was donated by Michael Versen & Associates.

“The Helen Ross McNabb Center is grateful for the community’s support of this project,” said Jerry Vagnier, Helen Ross McNabb Center’s President and CEO. “This project would not be possible without the financial support of Knox County, City of Knoxville, Tennessee Housing Development Agency and private donors. Homeless veterans in Knoxville are in need of affordable, permanent, supportive housing, and that is a gap the Center is trying to fill. We are proud to offer a place where veterans can build a community, receive support and live well.”

The Helen Ross McNabb Center is a not-for-profit provider of behavioral health services in East Tennessee. As the Center celebrates 70 years of providing services to communities in East Tennessee, its mission remains the same; “Improving the lives of the people we serve.”

In 1989, the Center began an effort to develop housing units for specific populations, including veterans. For almost a decade, national studies have shown that one out of every four people living in homelessness is a veteran. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless, approximately 76% of homeless veterans experience alcohol, drug, and/ or mental health problems. A top priority for homeless veterans is safe and clean housing that offers a supportive and healing environment.

At the opening of the Helen Ross McNabb Center’s Washington Oaks units, Many-Bears Grinder, Commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Veterans Affairs, called the opening of the complex “life changing” and said, “Two words should never come together: ’homeless’ and ‘veterans.’”

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