‘We don’t forget’

Volunteers construct housing for homeless veterans

An army of workers in hardhats move in and out of 655 Ocean Ave. carrying out pieces of plaster and wood they dump into a larger container near the curb. The sky threatens rain, but that does not slow the work. Along this stretch of Ocean Avenue, the work seems as unusual as the crowd standing outside a formerly boarded-up and mostly abandoned building.
This is Veterans Day, and these men – about 20 in all – are all members of various trade unions. They have volunteered their services to rehab a building the city has purchased to provide homes for homeless veterans.
Paul Roldan, field representative of Building Construction Laborers Local 3, says the crew has come to convert the tenement building into apartments for people who served their country and whom the country has forgotten.
“It’s good to give back to people who have given so much for us,” he said. “This will give them a place to live. So maybe they can get jobs and put their lives back together.”
The male and female volunteers started to gut the apartment that morning. Already they had exposed the wooden infrastructure upon which they will later rebuild the interior.

“This is a solvable problem.” – Mayor Steven Fulop
Peter Stassi, vice president of the construction union, said every one of the workers understands how important this is.
“This is why they volunteered,” he said. “They want to give back.”
When completed, the building will have eight apartments and two store fronts. The commercial space will be used to provide supportive services through the Hudson County Alliance to End Homelessness.
For Mayor Steven Fulop, who is one of the key motivators behind the reconstruction, this project is part of a commitment he made to find homes for all Jersey City’s homeless veterans.
He said the Point in Time Survey that is done at the start of the year identified about 40 veterans as homeless.
Fulop, a Marine veteran, said this project was personal for him, saying veterans who served their country should never return to find they have no job or home.
“This is a solvable problem,” he said.

A joint effort of agencies

Done in conjunction with the support of the Hudson County Building Trades, the Hudson County Department of Community Development, The United Way of Hudson County, and the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, the project will house eight chronically homeless and disabled veterans . Vouchers supplied by the federal Housing and Urban Development program will supply social services to the veterans.
“Jersey City is committed to following the Marines Corps. Philosophy of ‘leave no one behind,’” Fulop said, vowing to continue projects like this.
State Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Charles Richman committed to provide additional federal vouchers for every unit the city development for homeless veterans.
Earlier this month, Jersey City also announced the development of a 21-unit complex that would contain units dedicated to homeless veterans.
Among the host of dignitaries that stood in the drizzle to celebrate the Ocean Avenue project were regional, state and county union leaders, Assembly member-elect Angela McKnight, Freeholder Bill O’Dea, and Council members Diane Coleman and Joyce Watterman.
“It may be cloudy out but it is a sunny day for me,” Watterman said. “This is a day we have fought for.”
Coleman paid tribute to Pat Kelleher, president of the Hudson County Building Trades, who helped clear the way for providing opportunities in construction for a number her constituents.
O’Dea paid similar tribute to Kelleher, saying that the union leader had worked hand in hand with the county and the city to provide opportunities for employment.
Kelleher said the Ocean Avenue project was dedicated to helping veterans.
“We don’t forget,” he said.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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