The Jacksonville Urban League sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry’s office as well as Jacksonville City Council members seeking $1.6 million to help complete a veterans center in New Town.
The project, four years in the making, is expected to cost more than $7 million. Jacksonville Urban League received a $2 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The facility, which would be at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Old Kings Road, recently got a donation from Rep. Al Lawson’s office for $2 million.
“There is an urgent need for more support for veterans, especially in the underserved community. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, and one who, like so many other veterans, is surviving with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am aware of the needs of the veterans in our area,” Dr. Richard Danford, the president of the organization, said in a letter to the mayor’s office.
The center will work with veterans struggling with PTSD and homelessness. According to the project’s brochure, it will include a “multi-purpose space for community healing and engagement, workforce development, counseling, research, advocacy and resource development and health and wellness.”
Veterans at the American Legion Post 9 agreed it’s a needed service in Jacksonville and said there’s a gap in services.
“It’s terrible out here. It’s bad. We need the community to help us,” Army veteran Rev. Fitz Gerald Desprez said.
He once found himself homeless with his wife and now-3-year-old daughter on the streets. “I watched a mother crying — killing roaches so our daughter doesn’t get bitten,” he told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.
With help from the community at American Legion Post 9, he was able to return to his roots of service and is now the center’s chaplain.
“I’m still struggling to acclimate to being a civilian. Being here I’m not part of the service, but I still feel part of the service because I’m part of the camaraderie here,” Army veteran Rosetta Johnson said. She now owns Magnolia Kitchen, which serves customers at the Legion post.
However, like many posts, this one is on the brink of shutting down. “It’s money. You need money to pay your bills, and COVID happened,” Desprez said. They’re turning to the community to rally around them.
It’s also why Desprez wants the veteran community center open in New Town. Action News Jax contacted the mayor’s office about the letter and if the city would match the federal funding. We have not yet heard back.
Curry’s office currently has a survey to help assess the gap in veteran services. The results are expected to be published in November.
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