By Matt Gray | For
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on December 15, 2016 at 10:04 AM, updated December 15, 2016 at 1:23 PM
CLAYTON — Behind Clayton Mews senior apartments on Delsea Drive sits acres of what used to be farmland.

Work will soon begin to transform a portion of this site into permanent housing for military veterans and their families.

Called Camp Salute, this apartment complex will provide housing for low- to moderate-income families, with a preference given to veterans.

The People for People Foundation of Gloucester County has worked for six years to develop this project in collaboration with Conifer Realty, LLC, which is serving as developer, contractor and will own and manage the day-to-day operations of the site.

Construction is slated to start by mid-spring of 2017. If the weather cooperates, the first building could be open within nine months.

A love for veterans

The $20 million project consists of 76 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, with 19 subsidized units set aside for disabled veterans. Housing preference will be given to veterans and Gold Star parents of a son or daughter killed in combat.

Eighty percent of the project is financed via the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which promotes private development of affordable housing projects.

The complex will include a club house with a community room, exercise room, space for a leasing office and offices for the People for People organization itself.

“That will become our new home,” said Bernadette Blackstock, president and CEO of People for People.

Blackstock and her husband, Paul, founded the non-profit People for People in 2003 as a way to help normally self-sufficient people who have fallen on hard times. Many of those needing assistance were veterans.

The idea of helping vets came naturally for the Blackstocks, since both of their fathers served in World War II.

“This is really important to us,” Bernadette Blackstock said. “We have a real love for veterans.”

Her father served in Italy and North Africa.

“My dad was on the first landing at D-Day,” Paul Blackstock said. His father suffered serious injuries and spent seven years in hospitals. Blackstock grew up in a household with his father and two uncles, who are also veterans, all suffering with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I grew up with that,” he said. “When I was five years old, I was putting flags in grave sites on Memorial Day.”

People for People holds a Wreaths of Remembrance ceremony at the county veterans cemetery each December. The Blackstocks have also hosted a veterans picnic each year for more than 30 years.

More than a place to live

In working with veterans over the years, the Blackstocks have come to understand their needs.

“We know that there are a lot of veterans who are not necessarily homeless, but are in a position where income isn’t that high,” Bernadette Blackstock said. “It’s very difficult to find a safe, secure place to live.”

Rents at Camp Salute will run in the range of $800 to $1,000 a month, said Sam Leone, vice president of Conifer Realty.

“All of the units have a rent,” Leone explained. “They just happen to be affordable to different income levels.”

To qualify for a unit at Camp Salute, applicants must have income, either through a job, retirement benefits or compensation for a disability.

Camp Salute will be more than just a place to live, though.

An on-site veterans resource center will assist vets and their families with various needs. Three People for People staff members — the Blackstocks and Charles Gallagher — are now volunteer accredited claims agents and can represent veterans in filings and appeals before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. There are only six other accredited claims agents in the state.

The staff at Camp Salute will provide its free services to the entire South Jersey veteran population. In addition, they will provide assistance for seniors dealing with Medicare, Medicaid and other senior programs.

A ‘bricks and mortar salute’

While services exist around the region to help homeless vets and those suffering with drug and mental health problems, Camp Salute offers an answer for veterans who are ready to move on to permanent housing after receiving help from these agencies.

“This is not a rehab center. This is where you live,” said Allan Connors, a Vietnam veteran who served three tours and is now a member of People for People.

People for People has pledged to work as consultants assisting Amazing Grace Ministries as it develops a veterans retreat in Franklin Township. The retreat will provide a transitional setting, where combat veterans dealing with PTSD can spend up to two years as they receive care and skills training.

People for People will assist veterans in this program as they deal with the VA and make their transition to a regular job and a place to live.

Since Camp Salute provides permanent housing, this could be ideal solution for veterans completing that two-year program.

“They’ve had two years of being with veterans and having that support,” Bernadette Blackstock said. “They graduate the program and they go out into the real world and they don’t have that support anymore.”

Camp Salute allows veterans to maintain that sense of belonging.

“What makes our project unique is that it is a community of veterans,” she said. “Veterans are unique. They like to be together. They love the feeling of community.”

The location for Camp Salute is also ideal for veterans, given easy access to bus transportation along Delsea Drive, Leone noted.

“You’re not far from Glassboro and other employment centers,” he said, but for those still working through PTSD and other issues, the location offers a serene spot set back from the sounds of traffic and adjacent to a large wooded area.

Connors talked about the misconceptions many have when they hear the term “low-income housing,” noting that the residents at Camp Salute will be “solid people.”

“These are working people, retired people,” he said. “There’s nothing that exists that with this model. This is a community of veterans.”

The Blackstocks doesn’t foresee any problem filling the units with veterans. More than 100 vets have signed up online to receive updates about Camp Salute as the project takes shape.

The name Camp Salute is important, Connors said, because this project represents a tangible way to show respect for our veterans.

“What better way than to give them a decent place to live,” he said. “This is a true, substantive bricks and mortar salute.”

Matt Gray may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.