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Tinton Falls donates land for housing to help veterans

The Borough of Tinton Falls Council, in an effort to help provide housing for homeless veterans,  donated land to the non-profit organization “Soldier On.”

“Soldier On is a provider of shelter beds and treatment for homeless veterans that has also grown into becoming a part of the solution to ending homelessness by building ownership units for homeless veterans to own, manage and live in, where we deliver services to them for the rest of their lives,” Soldier On President John Downing said.

The Seabrook retirement community donated about 15 acres of land; however, due to wetlands being located on the site, Soldier On can only develop on about 12 acres, according to Council President Gary Baldwin.

“We were originally called into the central New Jersey area by Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian Burry and that is how we ended up down there,” Downing said. “From there, we ended up looking at FMERA [Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority] and at the old fort. And through that, the mayor and council president met us and said ‘if you can’t work it out with FMERA we would love to support the efforts [and] we really believe in what you are doing.'”

On Aug. 16, 2016, the council approved a resolution authorizing the execution of an affordable housing agreement with Soldier On for the provision of affordable housing.

The organization plans to build about 70 housing units on the site, according to Downing.

“We are in front of the New Jersey Housing Finance [and Mortgage Finance] Agency right now on our request for some funding. Once that is complete, and we know the amounts, then we will move forward to the next steps on the project,” Downing said. “We have done some engineering on the site [and] we have done some preparation for construction … so we have a team of people who live in New Jersey – our developer and those types of engineers who work with us to prepare our documents and move forward – so that is what we are doing on that level.”

The land is located on Essex Road and is near the Jersey Shore Premium Outlets, Walmart and other stores, according to Baldwin.

“I think with the [borough] we already filed the proper documents and we are just moving forward. So, when we would start will all depend on the funding. … If everything went smoothly on the funding, we probably would be starting construction somewhere around June or July of next year,” Downing said.

According to Downing, the organization currently has a village in the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with 39 housing units that has been open since 2011. The organization also has 44 housing units in the city of Northampton, Massachusetts, that was built last year.

“In Jackson, Mississippi, we are in the process of obtaining land from the school department in that town and we are looking at land in Biloxi, [Mississippi]. We will do two projects in Mississippi. Hopefully we will start those within the next two years,” Downing said.

In the city of Chicopee, Massachusetts, the organization built 43 housing units. The organization just finished building 51 housing units in the city of Agawan, Massachusetts. Currently, the organization is in the pre-development phase to build 221 housing units in Albany, according to Downing.

“I just think that Tinton Falls, Mayor Gerald Turning, Gary Baldwin, Lillian Burry, the development people that work in the community, everybody in that town has been susceptible to our work and they have been supportive of it,” Downing said. “Our response to that is that we want to have a village that is representative of the community, that meets the needs of the men and women in that area that are in this difficult situation, and we want to be able to continue to serve them.”

The organization has worked in New Jersey for four years. It has about 20 workers in the 10 central counties in New Jersey who work with a population of veterans in relation to at-risk homelessness, re-housing and services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Downing.

“All I really have to say is that it is about time that we really properly take care of our veterans who are having a tough time. When it comes down to it, most people simply shelter and feed them for a day and put them back out on the street,” Baldwin said. “Soldier On will provide safe and clean housing and whatever issues a veteran may have, Soldier On will help address it. There are a lot more homeless veterans in the area than people think, so this is something that is needed and we are going to help provide that need.”

For more information about Soldier On, visit www.wesoldieron.org/what-we-do-2/.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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