Construction to start on new housing for homeless veterans - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Construction to start on new housing for homeless veterans

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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

An affordable housing project for homeless veterans was once in jeopardy, but now, construction is about to get underway. On Wednesday, city leaders and community members helped Back Bay Mission break ground on a new apartment building in Biloxi.

In a few weeks, an apartment building will start going up on a small lot at the corner of Division and Couevas Streets. HomePort II will be a two-story structure. It will be home to six military veterans who have no roofs over their heads.

"There will be six units here, a little over 600 square feet per unit, completely furnished," said Back Bay Mission Interim Director Charles Brown.

Back Bay Mission had planned on starting construction on the $540,000 project last October. The only hold-up was approval from HUD for an $80,000 grant. However, the grant was denied last year, which put the project in jeopardy.

Back Bay Mission appealed to the public for financial support. Schools, churches, and many people donated to the cause and Back Bay Mission agreed to absorb the rest of the costs.

"The community has been so supportive and we've met our financial quota. We've gotten the monies we need to be able to do this and we're just excited about that," said Brown.

"It's a great deal here for the Ward 2 community. Being a veteran myself, you can never do enough for veterans," said Biloxi Councilman Felix Gines.

Church groups from Appleton, Wisconsin and Modena, Illinois, also promised to pitch in to help take care of our nation's heroes.

"That they should be living on the street is an absolute sin. If I can spend one day here painting or trimming or installing cabinets and that gets them one step closer to housing, I'll come back here in a heart beat," said Alan Benzschawel, a volunteer from Wisconsin.

The project is an expansion of HomePort, which is a duplex for homeless veterans. It is located right next door. What makes HomePort II different is you don't have to be a "disabled" veteran in order to qualify as a tenant.

"We're very, very excited about being able to do this. We're making a little dent in the homeless veteran population, but we're doing one unit at a time, one vet at a time," said Brown.

Brown said this latest project is just the beginning.

"It's a big difference for those six veterans. We know there are so many homeless veterans out there, but we're going to do this and our goal is to do some more, to build some more housing. So we'll just finish this one and start on another one," he said.

Funding for the project also came from the Veterans Administration, Home Depot Foundation, Keesler Federal Credit Union, Federal Home Loan Bank and the cities of Biloxi and Gulfport.

HomePort II should be finished sometime in October. The Biloxi VA and the Biloxi Housing Authority will determine which veterans will qualify as tenants. The tenants will have to pay rent. They can use 30-percent of their income and a federal voucher to cover the rest.   

For more information about the HomePort program, you can contact Back Bay Mission at (228) 432-0301.

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