Nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless throughout the United States, but by the end of July, six of them will be off the streets, as Hoboken’s American Legion Post 107 becomes the first post in the country to include homeless veteran housing.
“We are the first post to create affordable housing in the same building the post exists, which is important because veterans understand his reason being homeless,” said veteran Mark Villamar, the financial officer for the post. “We have been through combat and know results of that, and we can help these people become better citizens.”
Over the past two years, American Legion Post 107 has been under construction, transforming what was a garage-like one-story post meeting place at 308 Second St. to a five-story 11,000-square-foot space, with meeting space and housing.
The top three floors each have a studio unit and a one-bedroom unit with shared laundry facilities on each floor.
The units feature full kitchens and bathrooms and will be completely furnished.
The second floor consists of meeting space, a library with computers, and a cantina.
The first floor has mailboxes, a vestibule, and elevator access.
Commander of the post John Carey said he hopes this serves as a model for other American Legion Posts to follow in the future.
“We will be template throughout the state and the country, so eventually there will no longer be any homeless veterans,” Villamar added.
The post was rebuilt once before after it suffered severe damage after Superstorm Sandy and was flooded with six feet of water, according to Carey. This time, to prevent future flooding, the building complies with the city’s flood zone construction ordinances.
The project was funded in part through the New Jersey Mortgage Town Home Finance Agency, the Hudson County HOME Funding Consortium, and through fundraisers and donations, including one held by the neighboring town of Weehawken.
The legion was awarded the six federal housing vouchers for homeless veterans in 2015 from The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
‘Mission not yet accomplished’
Villamar said, the “mission is not yet accomplished,” explaining that this is just phase one of the project.
He said the post hopes to expand further by acquiring the neighboring parking lot, owned by the city, to create at least another 12 units.
He asked the city council to consider a resolution supporting the expansion.
“I’m asking you to place the importance of housing homeless veterans over parking for a few people,” he said during the June 19 council meeting.
Councilman Mike DeFusco said he would donate $5,400 to the Hoboken American Legion to support more housing for homeless veterans. The donation is the number of funds received from Frank Raia to DeFusco’s 2017 mayoral campaign. Raia was found guilty on June 26 of using the mail to promote a voter bribery scheme during the 2013 municipal election.
“I have long supported legislation that supports our homeless veterans and helps them rebuild from a vulnerable state,” DeFusco said. “I hope the dozens of local and state leaders and Democratic organizations who have also received contributions from Frank Raia will follow my lead by doing the right thing. Giving his donated money to community organizations will make a positive impact on peoples’ lives for years to come.”
A ribbon-cutting for the post has been scheduled for Monday, July 8.