Local leaders and supporters of the Veterans community gathered in Tinton Falls on Saturday for the ceremonial ground breaking of a Gordan H. Mansfield Veterans Community. The $23 million, four story community with 70 one bedroom apartments is a project of Soldier On and WinnDevelopment to be built on a 12.6 acre site on Essex Road that was donated by Seabrook Village.
The Gordan H. Mansfield Community model develops permanent housing cooperatives that provide formerly homeless veterans with safe, sustainable, affordable housing – transitioning them from homelessness to homeownership.
The genesis of the Tinton Falls project was Freeholder Lillian Burry’s desire to bring veterans housing to Fort Monmouth.
Burry became aware of Soldier On through her relationship with the late Edith T. Nowels. Nowels, the sister of WWII hero Cpl Bud Thorne, for whom the Thorne Middle School in Middletown is named. Nowles was a tireless advocate for veterans until her death in 2015..
Burry reached out to Soldier On CEO John F. Downing nine years ago and has been working on bringing the organization to Monmouth County to serve the approximately 300 homeless vets in the county ever since.
As a member of the Fort Monmouth Revitalization Authority, (FMERA), Burry wanted to bring Soldier On to Fort Monmouth. But the organization’s bid for land in the fort was too low. Burry and then Tinton Falls Mayor Gerry Turning, also a FMERA member, got to work looking for another location in Monmouth County. The land was donated to Tinton Falls by Seabrook Village. Tinton Falls leased the land to Soldier On for $1.00. The development will fulfill affordable housing obligations of Tinton Falls.
“Soldier On has led in the fight to help end veterans homelessness throughout the Northeast,” said Congressman Chris Smith, who authored the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Law. “The veteran’s housing project to be built in Tinton Falls is the culmination of years of collaborative work under the tremendous leadership of Freeholder Burry and Soldier On’s Jack Downing to bring a proven and effective housing model to the county that will provide services for homeless veterans.”
“I am especially grateful to Freeholder Lillian Burry for her extraordinary dream of a creating a Monmouth County homeless veterans housing initiative, and for her tenacity and skill in making it happen,” Smith said. “For nearly a decade, Lillian has been the quarterback in the push to meet the compelling housing and service needs of homeless veterans—and there have been many setbacks along the way, including an inability to secure space at Fort Monmouth.”
“According to the VA, in 2001 there were 294,840 homeless veterans on any given night,” said Smith, whose landmark 2001 law for homeless veterans first authorized funding for the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development-Veteran Affairs Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) program. “Shocked and deeply concerned, I chaired a series of congressional hearings on how to help homeless vets, and wrote the historic Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001, (Public Law 107-95). Almost 20 years later, that number has dropped to 37,085. Progress, but still far too many.
Among its many provisions, Smith’s law authorized, for the first time, the HUD-VASH program, which will be tapped as a major source of future rental assistance funding for veterans who will be living at the housing complex.
“I have been proud to do my part in finding a Monmouth County home for Soldier On, and I promise you I will continue to be an active supporter as it moves from design through construction to the day that it opens its doors and welcomes its very first veteran home,” Burry said.
“This has not been my effort alone. Like most worthwhile undertakings, it has had strong hands and hearts moving it forward,” Burry said, who thanked everyone who contributed at the state, county and local levels of government, plus private citizens and Soldier On. She said of Smith’s efforts: “He has been a dedicated supporter throughout this process, and his work in Washington has been invaluable.”
The Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community is named for Gordon H. Mansfield, former Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs. A highly decorated Army veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam, Mr. Mansfield was appointed to the position of Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs in November 2003 and served until January 2009. Mr. Mansfield, a Pittsfield, MA native, served as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1989 to 1993. While serving as company commander with the 101st Airborne Division during his 2nd tour in Vietnam, he was wounded during the TET Offensive of 1968, sustaining a spinal cord injury. For his actions, he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest personal decoration for valor in combat.