UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The nation's biggest heroes often face the most daunting challenges; homelessness and unemployment.
On Friday, the founder of the Utica Center of Development, Vincent Scalise, announced a $430,000 grant from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. It will go toward helping homeless and at-risk veterans in Oneida, Herkimer, Madison, Lewis, Saint Lawrence and Jefferson Counties.
The money comes at a crucial time. Local officials said homelessness among veterans is on the rise.
"This area has a lot of veterans, a lot of people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The figure I saw is something in the neighborhood of a million new veterans over the next five years," said Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, Assembly District 119.
Scalise said it's not just the veteran who suffers from deployment, it's the entire family. The money will go towards helping low income veteran families by assisting in rent payments, security deposits, moving costs, and ultimately providing permanent and stable housing.
"Veterans have sacrificed their lives to protect all of us to serve this great nation and I think it's important that we show respect, provide services they need and make certain they enjoy a quality of life," said John Furman, the Director of Grants at the Municipal Housing Authority of the City of Utica.
For Scalise, it's a cause that hits right at home. He opened the Utica Center of Development after his first deployment in Iraq over five years ago.
"It's not easy deploying and with a war that's been going on for over ten years, a veteran has issues reintegrating. You face difficulties coming home, so you can't put full concentration on the normal needs of life, so you tend to fall behind the curve and sometimes they need a helping hand and that's why I started it. I've served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I know what it's like to come home. I always thank the lord I'm lucky I have a very supportive family to help me, but a lot of veterans don't and they incur issues they need a helping hand with," said Scalise.
Henry Brown is one of the 500 veterans the center has helped. He had a hard time finding employment when he left the Air Force and is grateful for the center's assistance.
"I definitely would recommend it to all the veterans out there, please there's all these agencies in effect, please tap into it because assistance is here with this great nation we have and as much as they help me, I know for a fact they'll help them also," said Brown.
With the grant, Scalise hopes to help 200 more veterans just like Brown.
"I couldn't put it into words the amount of happiness I get when I help a veteran," he said.
The grant will take effect on Oct. 1. Veterans who would like to apply can call the center's hotline at (315) 982-7508.