Navy veteran Sonny Carelli wanted to make something clear right off the bat at Friday’s ribbon cutting of VanKeuren Square on E. Genesee St. in Syracuse.
"This is not a halfway house, this is not transitional living. This is our home. You screw up here, make the landlord angry, she'll kick you out. Don't pay your rent? You'll get kicked out."
Carelli provided some comic relief as dozens gathered to celebrate the opening of Syracuse’s first veterans housing development with on-site VA support services. The 50-unit, $11.5 million project includes mostly one bedroom, but also a few two-bedroom furnished apartments, as well as lounge, computer lab, and on-site laundry. For Carelli, it’s a place to start over after trouble re-acclimating after the Gulf War.
The namesake of the project, Robert VanKeuren of Canandaigua, saw 200 combat missions in Vietnam before returning home and falling into a life of drug addiction and roaming the streets. He turned his life around and co-founded the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans. His voice shaking with emotion, he likened the effort behind the project to soldiers who run to the sound of gunfire to tend to an injured comrade.
Numerous entities made the project possible, led by Housing Visions and the Syracuse VA. Others include several state agencies, the City of Syracuse, M & T bank, and dozens of other area companies and private donors who gave their money, time, supplies, equipment, and furnishings.