By Lauren Wanko
Three housing units have been sitting in storage for the past 17 years. They’re being renovated in anticipation of a new use.
“The word homeless and veterans should not be in the same sentence,” said Sen. James Beach.
In 1997, a non-profit received the units from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a program that no longer exists. Beach and other county officials worked with HUD to move some of the units from Morris to Camden County and partnered with the non-profit Volunteers of America Delaware Valley who will ultimately choose the veterans who will call these cottages home, provide case management and social services.
“I think it’s going to be someone who really wants to get out is sort of all ready kinda motivated to be on their own and then go from there,” said Volunteers of America Delaware Valley Director of Communications Rebecca Fuller.
VOA Delaware Valley runs Home for the Brave — a 30-bed facility in Camden designated for homeless veterans.
“There’s just not enough affordable housing in New Jersey and especially for the vets we serve,” Fuller said.
On a single night in January 2013, 57,849 veterans were homeless nationwide. In New Jersey, 540 vets were homeless.
Although the number of homeless vets has declined over the years, officials insist the numbers are unacceptable.
“We unfortunately have way too many homeless vets that are in the city of Camden and all over the county, so we need to do as much as we can to help these veterans,” Beach said.
The veterans can stay in the cottages, which sit on Camden County land, rent-free for up to two years.
“This is a transition step so they can get used to the idea of living alone and going to work and so on,” said Camden County Board of Freeholders Ed McDonnell.
HUD picked up the tab for the appliances and the Volunteers of America Delaware Valley is furnishing all the units. One is already completed and work continues on the other two cottages.
“The county freeholder McDonnell is working on a jobs creation program. We’ll get them a job, they’ll come here for transitional housing and then they’ll be turned back over to HUD where HUD will give them a voucher they can use for down payment on a home, condo and apartment With their employment, HUD will then supplement their employment so they can stay in their home,” Beach said.
“I think there’s a real pride in having your own home for anyone and not being in a shelter and feeling like you have hand up instead of a handout,” said Fuller.
Veterans are expected to call these new units home by the beginning of the summer.