Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- They put their lives on the line serving our county and when they return, the transition to civilian life can be an uphill battle. The homeless veteran population is growing fast in Central New York. A new effort seeks to ease that burden.
New permanent housing planned along East Genesee Street will be one of the biggest complexes for veterans the area’s ever seen.
The journey for Vietnam Veteran Robert Van Keuren hasn’t been easy. As a Navy seaman he was a 50 caliber gunner on nearly 200 combat missions and now, decades later, he still has battle wounds that go deeper than the eye can see.
“I came back from Vietnam and like thousands of veterans that came back was at loose ends and spent time homeless in the early 70s,” Van Keuren told NewsChannel 9.
After years of service to his country, Van Keuren had no money and no place to stay, until one day a fellow military man changed his life.
“What helped me was another vet who reached out to me and gave me something to do and that led to me becoming executive director of that organization and the path that God led me on,” Van Keuren continued.
It’s a path that would lead him to his plot of land in Syracuse and a groundbreaking named in his honor. In one year, the area along East Genesee Street will be transformed into Van Keuren Square – an $11 million apartment complex built for homeless veterans.
“Having my name on it is a humbling experience. It’s really on behalf of all homeless veterans that I accept that honor because I have no illusions that the things I did were all on my own account,” Van Keuren said.
Local advocates say the homeless veteran population is growing. A shelter in Onondaga County sees about 65 homeless veterans a night and about 213 per year.
“A project like this brings hope that they’re skills are recognized and that there is something for them,” said Tamara Goodacre with Healthcare for Homeless Veterans.
“One immutable fact in combat -- you don't leave anybody behind, you go back and get them regardless of the cost, you don't leave anybody behind,” Van Keuren said, which he vows to do until the day he dies.
Van Keuren Square is set to open October 2013. The apartments will cost up to $580 per month for homeless veterans. To learn more about the project, CLICK HERE