Providence, R.I. (June 13, 2011) – Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman David Cicilline, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and Mayor Angel Taveras along with representatives from Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, Providence VA Medical Center, Providence Housing Authority, the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development, Rhode Island Housing and their partners today cut the ribbon on 11 service-enriched homes for veterans.

These new homes at 963 Chalkstone Ave. honor the memory of Sgt. Gregory A. Belanger of Narragansett. He was with the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion, Army Reserve, and he was the first Rhode Islander killed in action in Iraq.

“These homes will provide Rhode Island veterans and their families with shelter, a sense of community and hope for generations to come. This is one small down payment on our clear obligation to honor and provide for our veterans, who deserve no less,” said Reed, a senior member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Development Committee.

Belanger died five days after his 24th birthday. His parents Kathy and Ed Belanger attended the ceremony.

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“Our veterans have made enormous sacrifices on behalf of our country, and they and their families deserve our steadfast support,” said Whitehouse. “These new homes give our veterans and their families an affordable place to live and I commend Operation Stand Down for their commitment to our service members.”

The housing needs of veterans often require specialization, and two of the rental homes on Chalkstone Avenue are handicapped-accessible. The veterans will have access to supportive services administered by the VA, and include case management, substance abuse counseling, job training and medical and psychiatric referrals.

“By dedicating these homes today in his name, we honor the service of Sergeant Belanger who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms we enjoy at home,” said Congressman Cicilline. “On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that our community leaves no veteran behind, and that includes making sure that every veteran has a roof over their head. That’s the very least we can do for all they’ve done to protect us.”

These new homes promote independent living by integrating veterans into an already established neighborhood. The rehabilitation of the property also is aligned with the concept of sustainable communities by re-using an existing building located in close proximity to public transportation, shopping, services and job opportunities.

“I am grateful for the work of Operation Stand Down and the many partners who made it possible for our City and state to take another step forward in the fight to end homelessness among veterans,” said Providence’s Mayor Angel Taveras. “It is unacceptable that those who bravely serve our country are ever without a safe and affordable place to live. It was a great honor to dedicate these new apartments in the name of Sgt. Gregory A. Belanger and to stand alongside his parents. The moment was a poignant reminder of the tremendous sacrifices made every day by our military forces and their families.”

Some 40 percent of homeless men in the United States are veterans and yet currently they comprise only 34 percent of the general adult male population, reported the National Coalition for the Homeless. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and approximately twice the number is homeless during the course of a year.

“These homes, in addition to being safe, affordable and healthy homes for veterans, include critical supportive services and access to transportation and jobs,” said Richard Godfrey, Executive Director of Rhode Island Housing. “The creation of good homes in our state involves a number of important funding programs on the federal and state levels. These funds, in addition to making homes affordable to Rhode Islanders, are vital to our economy.”

Financing sources for the homes included $440,000 from the state Housing Resources Commission’s Building Homes Rhode Island (BHRI) program; $500,000 in HOME funding administered by Rhode Island Housing; $28,209 in Thresholds Program funds provided by the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals as well as funds from Operation Stand Down.

Craig Stenning, Director of the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, whose Thresholds Program contributed funds toward this project, added, “For some time now, our department has been placing a higher emphasis on recovery, employment and housing. There is no group more worthy to receive this support than those men and women who have defended our freedom and safety.”

Operation Stand Down RI is a major provider of permanent housing and supportive services for disabled, dual diagnosed multiple handicapped veterans in Rhode Island. The organization has three permanent supportive housing developments and a permanent education facility. With the completion of 963 Chalkstone Ave., Operation Stand Down has 43 safe, affordable rental homes for veterans.