WinnDevelopment and Soldier On, Inc., Close Financing for $23 Million Veterans Housing Development in Tinton Falls, NJ

Photo courtesy of PS&S Architecture & Engineering.

BOSTON (August 4, 2020) – WinnDevelopment, an award-winning multifamily housing developer, and Soldier On, Inc., a non-profit organization serving homeless veterans, today announced they have closed on the financing needed to develop a $23 million, 70-unit apartment community in Tinton, Falls, NJ, for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, including veterans transitioning from homelessness.

“This is an important milestone in the long-held goal to build a veterans village at this site,” said Larry Curtis, president and managing partner of WinnDevelopment. “We appreciate the deep support this project has earned from so many public and private officials, including the New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA), Bank of America, Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, Monmouth County and the leaders of the Borough of Tinton Falls. We are excited to get construction underway.”

The Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Village will feature a four-story building with 70 one-bedroom apartments that will be available at a range of income levels, some of which will be set aside for homeless veterans. The community will be built on a wooded 12-acre site on Essex Road in Tinton Falls and will include a community room, offices, mail area, common laundry, and an exterior courtyard with benches and grills.

“We at Soldier On are thrilled to have closed on the funding needed to provide affordable permanent housing for homeless and at-risk veterans in Monmouth County,” said Bruce Buckley, the group’s CEO. “The construction of this property for the veterans most at-risk is only possible with the support of many individuals, organizations, and government agencies. Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry and former Tinton Falls City Council President Gary Baldwin have passionately and persistently worked with Soldier On since 2014 to make this project a reality. Congressman Smith, Lt. Governor Oliver, NJHFMA, Senator Gopal, and many other agencies joined this effort along the way, and all have contributed the same passion and commitment to effectively serve the veteran community. As we have been for the past decade, Soldier On looks forward to working with the New Jersey service providers and veterans’ service organizations to assist with finding eligible veterans who will benefit from this project.”

In addition to its role as a co-owner, Soldier On, based in Pittsfield, MA, will provide supportive services and case management for homeless veterans at the community. The project will be the organization’s first supportive services housing development outside Massachusetts and its seventh housing facility for veterans since it was founded in 1994.

“WinnCompanies, with our partners at Soldier On, are proud to begin construction on these critically needed housing units for veterans, including units set aside for homeless veterans and female veterans,” said WinnDevelopment Vice President David Ginsberg. “It is a testament to the leadership of the State of New Jersey, Monmouth County and Borough of Tinton Falls, including Mayor Vito Perillo, who were the first to identify the importance and urgency of housing for veterans, and then commit the necessary resources to get shovels in the ground. This closing would not have been possible without the dedicated team at the NJHFMA led by Charles (Chuck) Richman. The NJHMFA executive team and staff’s responsiveness, flexibility, and support were essential to make the veterans village model of housing a reality.”

Financing for the $23 million project is being provided by the NJHMFA, which will provide construction and permanent financing from the Agency Revenue Bond Financing Program and a subsidy mortgage loan commitment from the NJHMFA’s Multifamily Rental Housing Production Fund; low-income housing tax credit equity provided by Bank of America; a subordinate mortgage from Federal Home Loan Bank New York Affordable Housing Program; HOME funds from Monmouth County, NJ; project-based rental assistance from the New Jersey Department of Housing Assistance; and, a deferred developer fee.

The community will be named for the late Gordon H. Mansfield, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran and Pittsfield native who served as Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, as well as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equality Opportunity at the Department of Housing & Urban Development.

The Borough of Tinton Falls donated the property for the project. Construction is expected to begin this summer. V.J. Scozzari & Sons, Inc., of Pennington, NJ, will serve as the general contractor; PS&S Architecture & Engineering, of Cherry Hill, NJ, will serve as the architect and civil engineer; Gibbons P.C. will serve as local counsel and, Berman Indictor of Philadelphia, PA, will serve as counsel for the transaction. WinnResidential, the property management arm of WinnCompanies, will manage the community when it is for completed.

The project comes just months after WinnDevelopment completed The Residences at Brighton Marine, a mixed-income community in Boston that provides 102 units housing and supportive services for veterans and their families. Soldier On provides supportive services and case management at a 25-unit permanent housing facility on the Brighton Marine campus. WinnDevelopment’s other affordable housing developments in New Jersey include City Crossing, a 131-unit property in Jersey City; Ivy Square, a 156-unit community in Bridgeton; and, Sencit Liberty, a 153-unit property in Atlantic City. 

Soldier On operates a 71-bed transitional housing facility, a 39-unit housing cooperative, and a 14-unit housing cooperative specifically for female veterans in Pittsfield, MA. On the campus of the Veterans Administration Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds, MA, Soldier On operates a 165-bed transitional housing facility for both men and women veterans, as well as a 44-unit housing cooperative. Other permanent housing cooperatives include 43 units in Chicopee and 51 units in Agawam, MA.

About WinnCompanies

WinnCompanies is an award-winning national owner, developer and manager of high-impact affordable, middle income and market rate housing communities. Founded in 1971 and operating in 23 states and the District of Columbia, WinnCompanies is one of the nation’s leading multi-family housing operators with more than 105,000 units under management. It is the largest manager of affordable housing in the United States and a leading manager of privatized U.S. military housing. The company’s 3,670 team members are the source of its success.

About Soldier On, Inc.

Soldier On is a nationally recognized non-profit organization that worked in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to provide veterans with shelter and support in an environment that offers dignity integrity and, most importantly, hope. Our mission is to offer a continuum of care that includes immediate and long-term housing with services delivered where they live. Soldier On’s ultimate goal is to provide formerly homeless veterans with permanent, supportive, sustainable housing – assisting them in their transition from homelessness to homeownership.


“I like being all things to all mankind”

Soldier On’s new chaplain: ‘I like being all things to all mankind’

Father Peter Gregory is the new chaplain for Soldier On, Thursday, February 28, 2019. Gregory is very active in the community eve though he retired from St. Charles Church two years ago.


PITTSFIELD — The Rev. Peter Gregory’s four decades-plus of priesthood is one of destiny.

For 28 years, the city native was pastor of St. Charles Church in Pittsfield, where he was baptized as a child and his parents exchanged vows. Now, two years after leaving his pastoral duties behind, the Air Force veteran has been called to help homeless veterans get back on their feet.

Soldier On has named Gregory its new chaplain, succeeding the Rev. Quentin Chin, who left the position in December.

Before entering the priesthood, Gregory served full time in the Air Force from 1962 to 1966, continuing as a reservist until 1995. He credits the military training with giving him structure, discipline and the experience of the outside world that have served him well as pastor.

Gregory sees his latest calling as divine destiny.

“I’ve come full circle. I believe this came from the Lord — Holy Spirit-sent,” he told The Eagle on Thursday, his first day on the job.

Soldier On Executive Vice President John “Jack” Downing finds Gregory a perfect fit as the agency’s chaplain.

“It’s just a great marriage for both of us,” he said. “The veterans community we serve all want a chaplain.”

Gregory, who will be based in Pittsfield, will lead nondenominational spiritual and religious groups and conduct monthly masses in Pittsfield, Leeds, Agawam and Chicopee. The four Soldier On locations serve up to 450 homeless veterans. There are 250 in transitional programs, with an additional 200 living in permanent housing, according to Soldier On officials.

Gregory also is a part of the nonprofit’s Higher Level of Care Team, an outreach service to former Soldier On residents in assisted living and nursing homes.

“There’s a wonderful spirit here of helping veterans, some broken, but we’re trying to rebuild them,” he said.

Soldier On works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to provide veterans with shelter and support toward independence that includes homeownership.

“We serve everyone who comes through our doors,” Downing said. “If people relapse here, we don’t throw them out.”

Gregory already had informal ties to Soldier On, being a longtime friend of Downing and CEO Bruce Buckley’s children raised Catholic at St. Charles.

“He has real passion and compassion that he has brought to my family,” Buckley said.

After the ordination July 7, 1973, Gregory was named associate pastor at St. Joseph Church in Pittsfield. The clergyman would later hold several other ministerial positions in the Springfield and Albany, N.Y., area before heading overseas to Belgium in 1983. Gregory spent five years as pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Brussels and taught in Belgium, before returning to the states as chaplain of Mercy Hospital of Springfield.

Gregory was named pastor of St. Charles in 1989. From there, he also has served as chaplain to several groups, including the Pittsfield Fire Department. He remains the spiritual voice of the city firefighters.

Being Soldier On’s first Catholic chaplain isn’t an issue for Gregory or the veterans he has met so far.

“They look at me as a chaplain, and that’s what I want.” he said. “I like being all things to all mankind.”

Dick Lindsay can be reached at and 413-496-6233.


HLP & Soldier On Team Up to Help Military Veterans Achieve, Sustain Homeownership

December 5, 2018 – Hope LoanPort (HLP) and Soldier On announced today that the two organizations have implemented a new, comprehensive program to help military veterans achieve and sustain homeownership.  This multi-faceted initiative is designed to ensure our nation’s heroes have access to safe, secure and sustainable housing and it expands Soldier On’s service reach to a national level.

“There is a compelling need for this collaboration because a sizeable number of veterans face daunting challenges related to homeownership due to financial, physical and emotional issues,” said Bruce Buckley, Soldier On’s chief executive officer. “We are proud to partner with HLP in this important work that is changing the end of the story for our veterans.”

“Our partnership with Solider On will provide military veterans with a variety of services to help them purchase a home or get the right coaching needed to keep their existing home,” said Mark Cole, HLP’s chief executive officer.  “By combining Soldier On’s resources with our services, we can provide veterans with a holistic approach that will help them achieve their financial and housing goals.”

Key initiatives in the program include:

  • Veterans Homeownership Center. A national call center (888-288-3184) and program website will connect veterans on a path to homeownership and assistance in maintaining affordable housing and homeownership. The dedicated team versed in home retention strategies and resources unique to active military and veterans will work with homeowners.  Housing counselors from HUD-approved counseling agencies will provide a range of services including pre-purchase coaching, post-purchase support, foreclosure prevention counseling, loan modifications and workouts, refinancing analysis and reverse mortgage counseling.
  • Homes for Veterans. This program creates affordable, sustainable homes for veterans by accepting Real-Estate owned properties from mortgage servicers and investors and renovating them to match homes in the neighborhood and specific veteran needs.  Veterans accepted into the program receive 36 months of assistance via an individualized plan that ensures they are financially prepared and confident. Veterans who reach readiness goals can purchase the home at a 50-70% of appraised value. Post-purchase support assists in making lifestyle adjustments, setting goals and prioritizing choices, plus add Soldier On’s best-in-class expertise to ensure access to all needed resources.
  • Credit Education through HLPGuru and Credit Smart. This program will offer veterans access to CreditSmart®, Freddie Mac’s multilingual financial education curriculum designed to help consumers build and maintain better credit, make sound financial decisions, and understand the steps to sustainable homeownership.  In addition, veterans will also have access to, a new app that connects a tech-savvy generation of consumers with advanced analytics about a person’s credit score, borrowing capacity and other critical information to help them become homeowners.
  • Fair Housing Education. HLP and Soldier On are part of a collaboration of five nonprofit organizations joined to identify, educate, and advocate for potential victims of fair housing discrimination in communities across the nation. This collaborative will provide 3,167 hours of fair housing education to 14,000 potential discrimination victims and to the non-profit housing counseling and advocacy groups that serve them.  Veterans who have experienced discrimination will also be able to submit a complaint through the HLP system.

While both organizations have long histories of working with veterans, HLP and Soldier On believe that bringing two best-in-class providers together will dramatically improve the customer experience and success rate.


About HLP

HLP is a unique collaborative created in 2009 that engages the key stakeholders who work with families on homeownership – nonprofit counselors, advocates, mortgage lenders, servicers and investors, attorneys and government agencies. Being a national, neutral, nonprofit organization allows us to listen to all the parties and build solutions that support homeowners and incorporate the unique needs of all stakeholders.  As a result, HLP unifies the housing industry by helping individuals and families achieve and sustain homeownership. Stakeholders share information with each other via our technology platform and collaborate to find solutions to help homeowners. To date, we have helped more than 700,000 homeowners during their time of need.

About Soldier On

Soldier On is a nationally recognized non-profit organization governed by a full-time President, CEO and a volunteer Board of Directors. We work in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to provide veterans with shelter and support in an environment that offers dignity, integrity, and, most importantly, hope. Our mission is to offer a continuum of care that includes immediate and long-term housing with services delivered where they live. Soldier On’s ultimate goal is to provide formerly homeless veterans with permanent, supportive, sustainable housing – assisting them in their transition from homelessness to homeownership.


Homes for Veterans Program

Three national organizations have come together to help turn Real Estate Owned (REO) properties into affordable, sustainable homes for Veterans. There is a compelling need for this collaboration, as a sizeable number of Veterans face daunting challenges to becoming homeowners due to financial, physical and emotional issues. Soldier On, HLP and Citibank are working together to provide eligible Veterans and their families with a rehabilitated, single family residences along with the support and guidance necessary to maintain successful, independent permanent housing.

The “Homes for Veterans” program is committed to changing the end of the story for military Veterans, and the program addresses the two key components of success – offering the right property and providing ongoing education and support.

Citi is donating these properties for the program. The properties selected are then rehabilitated to a standard comparable to other properties in the neighborhood, and to include any modifications or accommodations needed by the Veteran.

Soldier On and HLP will work with the Veteran for 36 months to help ensure their success.  By providing an individualized service plan with a timetable for achievement of pre-established goals, we’ll be certain the Veteran is prepared financially and is confident about their ability to tackle homeownership.  We’ll also assist them make a successful transition, by supporting lifestyle adjustments, setting goals and prioritizing choices. All this work is coordinated with Soldier On’s best-in-class expertise to ensure Veterans get access to all the programs and resources they need and deserve.

Many other organizations are joining in to help our military Veteran families with this opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Current partners include Kathy Ireland and Tommy Mehary of Kathy Ireland Worldwide; SG Blocks; Star Flooring; YourHome1Source; and Lennox Heating and Cooling; and others are being added monthly.

We are excited to announce the completion of the first of hopefully hundreds of Homes for Veterans all across the country. We are thrilled to announce that our first Veteran selected in the great state of Texas is Homer Reyna, an Honorably Discharged US Marine. We are presenting Homer, his wife Paulene, and their daughter, Ella, with keys to their new Brownsville home on Friday October 12th.

Soldier On, HLP and Citi are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this year’s Tribute to Valor gathering, and humbled to join America’s most distinguished Veteran’s advocacies in honoring our country’s heroes. We share a common goal of addressing the needs of our heroes by providing a stable support system for our active and retired service members, their families, and those who will be serving in the future. We are proud to join Cendera Funding in welcoming our Nation’s Medal of Honor Recipients, America’s service members, Veterans, and families, in support of this wonderful cause to benefit the children and spouses of our Nation’s military service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice serving our Country since 9-11.


SG Blocks Partners with Soldier On to Combat Veteran Homelessness

Grimshaw Architects Modular Single & Multi-Family Home Rendering (Source – Grimshaw Architects)

BROOKLYN, N.Y.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–SG Blocks, Inc. (NASDAQ: SGBX), a leading designer, fabricator and innovator of container-based structures, has partnered with SOLDIER ON, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to end veteran homelessness and provide veteran supportive services, using donated lands, for veterans in need across the United States. Subsequent to the closing of the partnership Soldier On has identified five sites for potential development in selected markets.

SG Blocks’ newly-formed subsidiary SG Residential will be the exclusive provider of modular single-family and multi-family homes for Soldier On. The firm will deliver design and engineering renderings for all manufactured homes and partner with local contractors, preferably veteran-owned, for site work and install. Grimshaw Architects will be bringing its design expertise to SG Residential and is well-versed in affordable housing design and universal design. SG Blocks will also introduce financing partners to assist the veterans with financing. According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are over 40,000 homeless veterans.

“SG Blocks admires our military personnel and we are honored to be working with Soldier On to help provide housing to veterans in need,” stated Paul Galvin, Chairman and CEO of SG Blocks. “Our housing solution is extremely efficient, safe and sustainable. With our quick turnaround time, veterans serviced will be able to drastically reduce their costs and move in to their new homes much more quickly than if traditional construction methods had been used.”

“We are thrilled to partner with SG Blocks and enhance our housing capabilities for the veterans we serve,” stated Bruce Buckley, CEO of Soldier On. “Its unique container-based modular solution will speed up our processes and reduce our costs, allowing us to help more veterans in need.”

“We are so proud of our team member, Marine Tommy Meharey, who served our country, and his dedication and active engagement with Soldier On,” stated Kathy Ireland, Level Brands (NYSE AMERICAN: LEVB) Chairman Emeritus and Chief Brand Strategist. “We are excited about Soldier On’s partnership with SG Blocks, an innovative leader in the construction sector.”

SG Blocks utilizes code-engineered cargo shipping containers to construct and provide safe, durable and environmentally-friendly structures. It has an exclusive ESR number, which was granted by the International Code Council and ensures its ability to meet and exceed all international building codes. Clients have included Starbucks, Marriott, Taco Bell, Aman, Equinox and several branches of the U.S. military.

About SG Blocks, Inc.

SG Blocks, Inc. is a premier innovator in advancing and promoting the use of code-engineered cargo shipping containers for safe and sustainable construction. The firm offers a product that exceeds many standard building code requirements, and also supports developers, architects, builders and owners in achieving greener construction, faster execution, and stronger buildings of higher value. Each project starts with GreenSteel™, the structural core and shell of an SG Blocks building, and then customized to client specifications. For more information, visit

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Rubenstein Public Relations
Kati Bergou
Vice President
Investor Relations
MZ North America
Chris Tyson
Managing Director


Soldier On receives funding for housing project

PITTSFIELD — Soldier On has received $125,000 in predevelopment financing from the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation to develop affordable housing in Pittsfield. The organization is proposing to develop 14 units of permanent supportive housing serving veterans as part of its Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Village — Phase II project. CEDAC previously committed $125,000 in predevelopment loans to Soldier On, which provides both affordable housing and supportive services to help end veteran homelessness. CEDAC has also approved a $65,000 commitment for technical services to help Worcester Common Gound Inc. developed 31 units of affordable housing in that city. CEDAC is a public-private community development finance institution that provides financial resources and technical expertise for community-based and other non-profit organizations engaged in effective community development in Massachusetts.


Pittsfield Mayor, Linda Tyer, tours Soldier On

On Friday, August 17th Pittsfield Mayor, Linda Tyer toured Soldier On’s Pittsfield campus to see the site where the women’e permanent housing facility will be. Soldier On plans to break ground this fall.



Soldier On, HLP Kick Off “Homes for Veterans” Homeownership Program in Texas

In an effort to provide affordable housing for Military Veterans, Soldier On and HLP kicked off their new “Homes for Veterans” program this past weekend at the National Fantasy Football Convention in Fort Worth, Texas. The two nonprofit organizations have joined forces with mortgage companies to receive donations of foreclosed homes. Once the homes have been renovated, they will be offered for sale at deeply discounted prices to Military Veterans and their families.

Citi Mortgage has provided the first two homes, one each in Beaumont, Texas and Brownsville, Texas.  Working with a variety of suppliers in the housing industry, Soldier On will renovate the homes and make them “move-in ready” for Veterans.  Soldier On will also lead the evaluation and selection process of potential Veterans for the program.

Beaumont, Texas

Brownsville, Texas

Once a Veteran is selected for the home, HLP will provide financial coaching to prepare the families for homeownership. The coaching involves developing a monthly budget, paying down debt and building their credit score and savings. HLP will continue work with the new homeowner to keep their financial plan on-track, ensure mortgage payments are made on-time and offer ongoing support. Soldier On will provide transitional services and connections to other Veterans’ programs to the new homeowners.

“Since our founding almost 25 years ago, we’ve helped about 25,000 Military Veterans get their life back on track by moving them into permanent housing,” said Bruce Buckley, Soldier On’s Chief Executive Officer. “This program fits perfectly with our mission to end homelessness for Veterans.”

“Like all homeowners, Veterans need to have the financial skills to buy and sustain homeownership,” said Mark Cole, HLP’s Chief Executive Officer. “By providing them with financial education and coaching both before and after homeownership, we can help them change the end of their story.”

Col. David Sutherland of Dixon Center for Military & Veterans Services, Mark Cole President & CEO of HLP, Bruce Buckley CEO of Soldier On, and Lee Shaw.



Soldier On is making its move to find property in Daytona Beach to build homes for the homeless.

A Massachusetts-based nonprofit is looking at building a complex of permanent homes for the homeless in Daytona Beach.
By Eileen Zaffiro-Kean

DAYTONA BEACH – When local leaders started sparring over whether to build a new homeless shelter, a four-year tug of war broke out between emergency shelter advocates and permanent housing supporters.

Now it looks like both sides are going to get what they want. Construction is underway on the 100-bed First Step Shelter slated to open next year. And a Massachusetts-based nonprofit called Soldier On is making its move to find property in Daytona Beach to build homes for the homeless.

Soldier On’s plan is to construct apartments or town home-style units the once-homeless residents could stay in as long as they wanted. They could even become partial owners.

Helping homeless people cobble together enough money from Social Security benefits, Veterans Administration assistance, federal housing vouchers and meager wages from part-time jobs to get a roof over their heads isn’t new in Volusia County. But the Soldier On project would mark the first time in county history that a large permanent housing complex was built exclusively for people coming off the streets.

When local homeless people move into places of their own now, they’re connected with whatever housing works and they’re scattered around the area, sometimes shunned by neighbors who find out about their past. The Soldier On vision is for a cohesive village of formerly homeless people who understand and help one another, and have quick access to a plethora of support services.

“They have probably the best reputation in the country for doing these projects,” said Mayor Derrick Henry, who serves as president of the First Step Shelter Board. “We see the long-term housing as a second step. I recognize the problem we’re having with affordable housing.”

Nothing is definite yet, but Soldier On officials have their eye on a 17-acre property on George Engram Boulevard a short distance east of Nova Road. The site across from Bonner Elementary School, vacant since the public housing on it was demolished around 2006, is owned by the Daytona Beach Housing Authority.

“They fell in love with it because it’s a huge piece of property to do everything we envisioned,” said L. Ronald Durham, the city’s Community Relations Manager, who has been heavily involved in local efforts to help the homeless. “We have a bold vision for the site if we can acquire it.”

If Soldier On stays focused on that property just east of the Midtown Cultural and Educational Center, the Housing Authority’s board will ultimately decide whether to sell the land. Durham expects to give a presentation on the Soldier On proposal to the Housing Authority board at their next meeting.

Since the Daytona Beach Housing Authority is in the process of hiring a new executive director, the board might wait for the new agency head to take the helm before making a decision. Henry said board members he’s spoken to “seem supportive of the project,” and he noted that the Housing Authority might be able to provide housing vouchers for residents of the new complex.

If things fall into place, there could be new buildings on the site with space for 50-100 people within the next few years. There could even be a convenience store so the new residents, many who probably wouldn’t have cars, would have easy access to basic necessities.

If the George Engram Boulevard property doesn’t work out, Soldier On officials say they’ve checked out other sites on their visits to Daytona Beach that could work.

Local leaders who’ve seen Soldier On’s residential properties say they’re well-kept and attractive, and look like any other quality apartment buildings or town homes.

“This does not look like anything you’d envision for people who were once homeless,” Durham said. “It’ll look like part of the community.”

‘The timing is perfect’

Soldier On has helped more than 10,000 veterans over the past 25 years with everything from securing Veterans Administration benefits to finding jobs, and the agency bills itself as the largest provider of supportive services for veteran families in the United States.

Up to now Soldier On has exclusively helped veterans, but the Daytona Beach property would welcome both former soldiers and non-soldiers, men and women. It would be for single adults, not families.

At least to start, residents of the new housing would come mainly from First Step Shelter, which will also be for adults. Bruce Buckley, Soldier On’s president and CEO, said his agency would consider homeless people who don’t go to First Step, but priority will be given to those who go to that shelter, which is expected to open in about a year on a site near the Volusia County Branch Jail.

On May 30, the First Step Shelter Board entered into a memorandum of understanding with Soldier On. The plan is for shelter residents who do what’s needed to get their lives back on track to advance from that emergency housing to permanent homes in the Soldier On village.

“First Step is 100 percent behind it,” Henry said. “We’ll help them help us.”

But Soldier On isn’t asking the First Step board for any financial help.

“I like that they didn’t ask us for anything other than cooperation,” said First Step Board member Dwight Selby, an Ormond Beach city commissioner. “I’m excited about it. We’ve got to be able to send people somewhere. The timing is perfect.”

Fellow First Step board member Bill Hall, South Daytona’s mayor, also likes the plan.

“I don’t think it can be a negative in any way,” Hall said.

But some people who live and work near George Engram Boulevard are already worrying.

“All these things need to be out west,” said Johnnie Ponder, a longtime resident of the Midtown neighborhood a few blocks south of George Engram Boulevard. “Shelters, agencies, they can have them. Why do they need to come here?”

Buckley said his organization has to choose sites with good access to businesses, services and transportation, but the nonprofit also tries to “make joint decisions with a community.”

“We try not to go anywhere we’re pushing our way into an area,” he said.

Buckley said he’ll be back in Daytona Beach in a few weeks looking at sites.

The center of the city that Ponder referred to has had Daytona Beach’s largest concentration of homeless assistance agencies for more than a decade. Attempts over the past few years to increase that concentration and locate a homeless shelter in the city’s historic core were met with powerful opposition in four different locations.

But with homeless people and aggressive panhandlers more painfully visible than ever in the city’s center and beachside, many business owners and residents are running out of patience for the shelter and new housing to go up. Two local business owners told city commissioners at their meeting last week that the homeless have become more than just an avoidable annoyance.

Jennifer Finno Ellis, who lives downtown and runs a Main Street tattoo parlor, told city commissioners she recently saw two panhandlers in a turf fight on the corner of Ridgewood Avenue and International Speedway Boulevard. She stepped in to try to help the older panhandler, and said she wound up being attacked by the younger vagrant. She was left with multiple injuries and she’s hobbling around on crutches now.

More about Soldier On

Soldier On provides homeless veterans — as well as those at risk of becoming homeless — with personalized case management, legal help, financial assistance, transportation, basic medical and dental care, food, mental health counseling, treatment for addictions and life skills training. The agency also helps with everything from emergency shelter to transitional housing to permanent housing.

All residents in Soldier On permanent housing are required to complete a life skills program that takes 15 hours and covers financial literacy, legal issues, rules and regulations, wellness and basic life skills. There are even Soldier On reintegration programs in jails and prisons.

“There’s so many layers to addressing homelessness,” Henry said.

Soldier On does not ban alcoholics and drug addicts from its properties, but it doesn’t allow illegal drug use in its homes and relapses are met with intervention efforts.

“Each individual develops a personalized plan for their own healing and recovery in a trauma-free environment,” Durham said. “There will be ongoing case management to make sure they’re a success and not a failure. These will be people who show quite a bit of promise.”

For its first 16 years, Soldier On only offered veteran services. Then in 2010 the agency based in Pittsfield, Mass., branched out and started providing permanent housing, some newly built and some in rehabbed schools.

The nonprofit owns and operates 177 affordable housing units in four Massachusetts cities. The organization says it’s expanding its housing now into New York, New Jersey, Mississippi and Florida.

In Volusia County, other groups have proposed more elaborate versions of what Soldier On hopes to do in Daytona Beach, including one plan for a large homeless village west of Interstate 95 and another proposal for a sprawling homeless community just west of New Smyrna Beach. But those ideas never progressed beyond words and drawings on paper.

Soldier On’s recipe for success has included a mix of tax credits, federal grants and loans to get its properties built.

The agency spent $7 million on its first housing complex, which is located in Pittsfield, and opened seven years ago. The average unit size is 525 square feet. Rent is $526 for a studio apartment and $582 for a one-bedroom home.

The 39 veterans who live there purchased a share in the limited-equity housing cooperative. The cooperatives can provide residents with some extra money when there’s a surplus, and they “get a sense of membership in a community,” Buckley said. “They’re not transient anymore.”

The nonprofit says the Pittsfield property has a resident retention rate of more than 90 percent, and an occupancy rate of nearly 100 percent.

Soldier On has three additional housing complexes in Massachusetts that opened in 2016 and 2017. It also has 19 permanent housing units scattered around Pittsfield, a western Massachusetts city of about 45,000.

Its 44-unit property in Leeds, Mass., cost $10 million to build and furnish, and charges $883 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. A renovated elementary school in Chicopee, Mass., cost $9.8 million to turn into a 43-unit residence that also charges $883 monthly for a one-bedroom unit.

Rent for the fully furnished units includes utilities, high-speed Internet access and basic cable. The units come with personal computers and 32-inch monitors that can also be used for watching TV, video conferencing for group counseling on everything from addictions to weight loss, and using Skype to connect with case managers and healthcare professionals. There are individually designed home screens with access to banking, VA benefits, medical services and prescription support.

Two Massachusetts officials said they’ve heard only good things about Soldier On properties.

“I’m not aware of any issues,” said Peter Marchetti, president of the Pittsfield City Council. “From touring the facilities, it seems good to me.”

Jerry Roy, an at-large member of the Chicopee City Council, said “it’s a good program.”

The Daytona Beach connection

Pete Gamble, a former executive director of the Daytona Beach Housing Authority, was the one who connected Daytona Beach and Soldier On. Three years ago, Gamble and the Housing Authority wanted to create a veterans village in Daytona Beach, so they went to Massachusetts to tour the Soldier On homes.

“We were very impressed, so we tried to do the same thing here,” said Gamble, who was celebrated during his tenure for getting several new Daytona Beach Housing Authority properties built.

Three sites in Daytona Beach were chosen as contenders for the housing. The current property on George Engram Boulevard was considered, as was land behind Campbell Middle School and property near the intersection of Mason Avenue and Bill France Boulevard. The effort failed, though, because “there was a lot of territorialism” among some Daytona Beach nonprofits, he said.

“We couldn’t get the support of the social service providers, and some of the funding depended on them signing a letter of support,” Gamble said.

Then six months ago, with First Step Shelter surging toward reality, Durham contacted Gamble to see if the Soldier On project could be revived. Gamble said he got everyone in touch with one another and then bowed out of the process since he retired from his position at the Housing Authority.

But Gamble still believes in Soldier On.

“They were the finest provider we saw,” he said.

Gamble believes permanent housing is a vital part of keeping people from sliding back into homelessness. He noted that some homeless people need an alternative to Housing Authority apartments since they wouldn’t meet that organization’s standards for criminal records and credit history.

The recently homeless also won’t be able to afford the climbing rents in the Daytona Beach area, and new First Step Shelter Executive Director Mark Geallis is afraid a new wave of homelessness could be coming. The city needs all the affordable housing it can get, Geallis said.

“If you don’t have a place after you stabilize them,” Gamble said, “the chance of recycling back to the street is very high.”


Daytona Beach Homeless Shelter Board Looking at Permanent Housing

Daytona Beach Homeless Shelter Board Looking at Permanent Housing

DAYTONA BEACH — The board that’s overseeing creation of a new homeless shelter hoped to open by the summer of 2019 is starting to plan for what will be done to help people after they leave the refuge for the unsheltered west of Interstate 95.

At their meeting Monday night, members of the First Step Shelter Board had a lengthy conversation via Skype with three top officials of a Massachusetts-based program that provides homes to the homeless.

The organization, Soldier On, is interested in building homes in Daytona Beach, and a large piece of open land on George Engram Boulevard next to the city’s Midtown Cultural & Educational Center has been targeted as a possible site for a new village for those with nowhere to go. The Daytona Beach Housing Authority controls the vacant property, which has been empty for more than 10 years, and would have to become a willing partner for that site to be used.

Soldier On runs its programs on donations and government grants, and isn’t asking the First Step Shelter Board for any money toward the proposed project.

“The gem and the jewel is they’re not asking you for anything,” said L. Ronald Durham, the city’s community relations manager and point person on the shelter.

People who live in Soldier On homes help cover their bills with federal veterans benefits, Social Security assistance programs and income they earn if they work. Despite its name, Soldier On provides permanent housing both for veterans and nonveterans.

Two members of the First Step Shelter Board were not at Monday’s meeting, but the five who were there voted unanimously to pursue an agreement with Soldier On. Once a formal agreement is drafted, it will be reviewed by City Attorney Robert Jagger and eventually voted on by the First Step board.

Soldier On officials, who have visited Daytona Beach several times, can proceed with their effort with or without the First Step Shelter Board’s partnership. But the nonprofit is hoping to join forces with those running First Step so they can house and assist people as they graduate from the 100-bed shelter.

“The key to the success of First Step is the second step,” Durham said.

Soldier On, formed in 1994, also provides preventative support services and reintegration programs in jails and prisons. All residents in Soldier On housing are required to complete life skills programs, and the agency provides case managers, access to healthy meals, transportation and other programs.

Since 2010, Soldier On has developed, constructed and managed several new and rehabbed permanent housing projects. The organization says one of its permanent housing cooperatives in Massachusetts provides homes for 39 homeless veterans and has a retention rate of 90 percent.

Residents can become part owners of their new homes, and they are able to live in them permanently if they choose. Soldier On has about 200 housing units in Massachusetts, and has other veterans communities in development in New York, New Jersey and Mississippi.

Pete Gamble, the former executive director of the Daytona Beach Housing Authority, said he tried several years ago to bring Soldier On housing to Daytona Beach. His vision was to put commercial uses on the first floor of buildings and residences above. But he wasn’t able to get enough support. Gamble said a few of Florida’s representatives in Washington, D.C., were willing to help secure funds, but local service agencies at the time didn’t like the idea of an outside agency coming in.

Now Gamble is taking another shot at the effort. Gamble said he visited a Soldier On housing site in Massachusetts and was “very impressed” with both the buildings and the program’s connections to local government, clergy and the Veterans Administration.

“These guys have done an outstanding job,” said Gamble, who was credited with dramatically improving public housing in Daytona Beach during his long tenure overseeing the Housing Authority. “We have to start working together as partners.”

There was widespread support for the idea among those who spoke at Monday’s meeting at City Hall, including Chet Bell and Mark Geallis, both former heads of nonprofits that help the homeless.

“This is promising,” said Mayor Derrick Henry, chairman of the First Step Shelter Board. “It wouldn’t take us long to get off the ground. It could be a sizeable number of units.”

Henry added later that he’s “excited” and thinks Soldier On housing has “the potential to make a deep impact” in Daytona Beach.

“We have to eventually explore something like this, so the the sooner the better,” the mayor said.

“I’m very much encouraged with this,” echoed Chase Tramont, a First Step Board member and Port Orange City Council member.

Durham gave a brief update on shelter construction at Monday’s meeting. He detailed some utility work being done, and said architectural plans are more than 30 percent complete.

Durham’s update didn’t get into specifics for the new building’s construction. At the end of the Feb. 21 City Commission meeting, City Manager Jim Chisholm gave a presentation on the shelter construction timeline. A document the city put together for that presentation shows site and foundation construction being completed in late October, and vertical construction being complete in a year, on March 20 of next year to be exact.

But the shelter wouldn’t open immediately. The records show the certificate of occupancy being issued on April 30, 2019, furnishings being complete on June 30, 2019, and operations starting at the shelter on July 15, 2019.

The 100-bed shelter is being built on a city-owned 626-acre site near the Volusia County Branch Jail that was recently annexed into city limits.

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