Grant Will Help Local Vets Get Work, Keep Homes

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by Nina Rizzo

 

FREEHOLD— A Massachusetts-based nonprofit group is coming to the Jersey Shore this fall to administer a $1 million federal grant that will help homeless veterans and those at risk of losing their homes.

Soldier On, a nonprofit organization based in Leeds, Mass., will administer the grant program for Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Burlington counties. The program, which begins Oct. 1, is designed to help struggling veterans with rental payments, security deposits, car repairs, car insurance or anything else that will help get them to work and stay in their homes.

“There’s a very high level of former military personnel living in these counties,” said Jack Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On. He noted that the lackluster economy, coupled with several base closures and consolidations in this region, have left many older veterans at risk of homelessness.

“We know from experience it’s much easier to help someone before he becomes homeless rather than to help him re-establish himself after he becomes homeless,” Downing said.

Downing said his group will set up an office in the region. He is applying to the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority to rent office space at the former military installation in Eatontown.

Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, the county’s representative to the authority, said the federal grant will provide “much-needed housing assistance and stability to veterans” in this region. She noted that Soldier On has 15 years of experience developing transitional and permanent housing and “successfully creating innovative home ownership opportunities for veterans.”

Downing said Burry, along with Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., supported Soldier On’s efforts to win this competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The funding is part of a $2.9 million grant provided through the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families. The grant program is now in its second year.

“Unfortunately, right now, the concentration of veterans and their families in Central New Jersey are without access to prevention and rapid rehousing resources,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “With the VA’s green light, Soldier On will now be able to provide very specialized services to address the needs of a very specific population in (these) counties, thereby enabling a federal-private partnership that will truly help our veterans.”

Downing said 35 percent of the funding will be distributed in direct payments to veterans to help them stabilize their lives. The rest of that money will be used to set up an office, hire staff, promote its services and partner with other community groups that can provide some of the mental health, employment and housing services needed. A 24-hour hotline will soon be publicized. After receiving a call, an outreach worker will visit the veteran at his home within 48 hours to assess his situation, help fill out paperwork and, if needed, make appointments.

“The VA only serves 30 percent of veterans. Many of them don’t realize they are eligible for services or don’t think they meet the requirements or are just too embarrassed,” Downing said.

He added that the VA acknowledges it hasn’t done a good job of reaching out to veterans so it created this funding pool for local agencies to help get the word out. Soldier On will administer the grant for this four-county region in New Jersey.

Nina Rizzo: nrizzo@njpressmedia.com

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