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Veterans seek housing for 130 homeless vets in Tonawanda

A local veterans advocacy organization is hoping to line up government money or private donations for a $50 million project to build a housing community for more than 130 homeless veterans in the Town of Tonawanda.

Veterans Voices of Western New York wants to create Veterans Village to address what it calls an urgent need for more housing and services for both men and women who served in the military.

It would include housing, as well as outreach services, medical care and job training in manufacturing skills. And it would be operated, managed and maintained by veterans, said Joe Mascia, a veteran and member of the group's board.

"This is a huge, huge project, one that we feel is going to be successful," Mascia said.

The five-building complex would be constructed in stages on 14.5 acres at 1740-1750 Military Road, just north of Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda.

The property is owned by engineer Hormoz Mansouri, through HLM Holdings LLC, but the veterans group is negotiating an agreement to buy it and Mansouri, owner of EI Team Inc., is working with the group on the development.

Town officials met with Mansouri about six weeks ago and liked what they heard. The oddly shaped former industrial site stretches from Military Road across a set of railroad tracks to the town's Sheridan Parkside Community Center. It has been vacant for at least 15 years, said Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger.

"I think it's an exciting project for the area, not only for the Town of Tonawanda but, I think, for Western New York veterans in general," Emminger said.

Homelessness is a major problem for the nation's veterans, with an estimated 84,000 living on the streets in New York State, Mascia said. Many also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other health problems, and an increasing number are struggling with pain-killer addictions, while suicide is also a concern.

"We know there's a need in Upstate New York," said Mascia, 72, who served in the New York State National Guard from 1962 to 1966.

The group plans to start with a $14 million project that would renovate a two-story building to create 38 apartments – 16 for men on the first floor, 22 for women and families on the second floor. There would also be 16,500 square feet for offices and veterans services.

Units will range from one- to three-bedrooms and from 368 to 1,103 square feet.

Services may include benefits counseling, financial counseling, housing assistance, wellness services and physical therapy, legal counseling, employment and job training, a commissary and the Battle Buddy Program. Mascia said several health care and veterans organizations have committed to providing services onsite.

Completion of the first building would be followed by construction of three U-shaped, two-story residences, with 32 units for men in each.

The final planned one-story building would include a business incubator and light manufacturing facility, as well as a storage warehouse in the rear. The purpose is to offer the veterans a chance to learn some skills, while making sheet metal for use in HVAC ducts that could be sold to generate revenue to offset the cost of maintaining the complex.

Mascia said the group has commitments from three labor unions to set up training programs.

Veterans Voices is seeking state and federal funding, as well as private donations, to finance the project. They're negotiating with a demolition contractor to clear the site, and hope to be able to break ground within six months, Mascia said.

"This is happening pretty quick," he said.

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