Grant falls through, jeopardizing housing for homeless veterans

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Back Bay Mission is asking you to help save a housing project for homeless, disabled veterans. About 300-500 homeless veterans are living in south Mississippi. The organization was hoping to break ground on a new apartment complex this fall. But those plans have hit a financial snag.

After serving his country during the Vietnam War, Mike Martin ended up homeless. In May, 24 years later, the Army veteran moved into the "Homeport Project" on Couevas Street in Biloxi. Homeport is a duplex built by Back Bay Mission just for homeless disabled veterans.

"Oh, I was overjoyed!" said Martin. "It was time for me to get out of the woods and this is just a beautiful apartment. Golly, it's great!"

Martin said having a roof over his head has changed his life. For one thing, he is waiting to hear about a job at the Biloxi VA.

"I don't have to worry about mere survival," he said. "I can make some good solid plans for the future, like the work program. You can't even get in a work program unless you're living indoors."

Calling Homeport a success, Back Bay Mission planned to start construction in October on the next phase, which is a two-story apartment building. The $556,000 project would go up right next to the duplex.

"We're looking forward to getting six more veterans off the streets," said Everett Lewis, Associate of Housing Initiatives for Back Bay Mission. "Everybody deserves a decent place to live. But when you think about the men and women who've actually served our country, they don't deserve to be sleeping on the streets or not have a permanent, safe, decent place to live. So that's the driving force behind this."

Back Bay Mission applied for four separate grants to fund the project. Three of those grants have already been approved. However, three weeks ago, the organization found out that an $81,000 grant through the Supportive Housing Program has been denied. The shortfall has put the project in jeopardy.

"Obviously, we were disappointed," said Lewis. "Because what it does, in addition to not having the funds, it just delays the project and that delays us getting veterans off the street. We're going to be able to absorb most of that through Back Bay Mission finances, but we're still going to be about $21,000 short."

The organization is hoping the people of South Mississippi will contribute to the cause.

"We're just reaching out to the public and the good-hearted folks of the Mississippi Gulf Coast who really take a lot of pride in supporting their veterans. I'm sure that we'll be able to raise the funds. We're not deterred by our ability to go forward with the project," said Lewis.

Keeping the project alive could open up more doors for homeless veterans like Mike Martin.

"I'd like to see more of them get indoors," said Martin, as he eyes filled with tears. "My brothers are out there and they need something better."

If you would like to donate to the Homeport Project expansion, just drop by the Back Bay Mission office on Division Street in Biloxi. Or visit:

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