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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -
Nearly 70,000 military veterans in our country have no place to call home. At least 250 homeless veterans are living in South Mississippi. On Friday, Back Bay Mission celebrated the opening of a new housing development in Biloxi just for homeless, disabled veterans.
For 23-years, Rudolph Downes was living on the streets. The Navy veteran is no longer homeless. Last week, Downes moved into a brand, new duplex at the corner of Couevas and Division Street in Biloxi.
"I really didn't believe it was happening until I got the keys," said Rudolph Downes. "Everything's furnished. Everything came with it, can't get any better than that."
Downes is the first tenant of the "Homeport Project," a two-unit housing development for homeless disabled veterans.
On Friday, about 70-people gathered to tour the duplex, which is located just east of the I-110. It was built by Back Bay Mission.
"It's a small project and intentionally so, because we wanted to show the community that it could be done, that it will be an asset to the community, and that it could be something all of us could be proud of," said Shari Prestemon, Executive Director of Back Bay Mission.
The one-bedroom, one bath units come fully furnished, including appliances. The rent is about $700 a month. Tenants pay 30-percent of their income and they can use a federal VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) voucher to cover the rest.
To be eligible, the applicant must have been homeless for at least a year, have a disability, and was honorably discharged from the military.
"These are people who have served us faithfully all across the world and why should they come home and have to live on the streets? I think together we can certainly commit to solving this problem together," said Prestemon.
Plans for the Homeport Project started two years ago. Phase one costs $175,000. Funding came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Harrison County Home Consortium.
Back Bay Mission is already working on Phase II, a two-story apartment complex with six units. The building will go up right next to the duplex. The organization is still trying to raise about $700,000 to fund the project.
"It's a great organization," said Downes. "It should have been here a long time ago. Not just veterans. Nobody should be on the streets."
The Biloxi VA is also working with Back Bay Mission on this project by selecting the applicants and assisting with ongoing case management.
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