A camp with a purpose takes shape in Clayton | Editorial

South Jersey Times Editorial Board
www.nj.com / sjletters@njadvancemedia.com 

“With a name like Camp Salute, you might think what will take shape on some former farmland in Clayton will provide outdoor summertime recreational activities geared toward 8-year-olds who like to play “Army.”

It’s really a much bigger deal than that.

Camp Salute, despite its mildly deceptive name, is a $20 million development that will provide new housing opportunities, and much more, for under-served military veterans. All clients will be a good deal older than summer-camp age. Poison ivy should not be an issue, and no one will have to drink “bug juice” at lunchtime.

The 76-apartment complex is the brainchild of the Gloucester County-based People for People Foundation, a once-fledgling charity that stepped up to the plate big-time for this undertaking. The site will have 19 units set aside specifically for disabled veterans. Veterans and Gold Star families — who have lost a child in combat — will be given priority for the other affordable housing rental units. Construction is slated to begin in the spring.

It’s an understatement to say that the project will fill a need. Although New Jersey has made some recent progress on veteran homelessness and employment, the state historically has had elevated joblessness rates for veterans of recent conflicts.

Camp Salute also offers a partnership of public, private and volunteer funding and management that could be a model for other ventures. Eighty percent of the financing will come via federal affordable-housing credits, and Conifer Realty LLC will own and manage the residential structures. The complex will also include a new headquarters for People for People, which was founded by Bernadette and Paul Blackstock in 2003.

The Blackstocks and their organization has always had a keen interest in making things better for veterans, although its initial goal was to help anyone who was down on his or her luck, but who had self-help potential with a little push. The Blackstocks both had fathers who served during World War II.

With this in mind, Camp Salute will have an on-site veterans’ resource center to help with day-to-day issues, such as appeals of Veterans Affairs decisions on health care or other benefits. Perhaps Camp Salute can be viewed as a kind of “assisted living” facility, but not one designed exclusively for senior citizens in their declining years. Some of its services will also be available to veterans and others who are not residents.

People for People hopes that Camp Salute will attract veterans who feel more comfortable living mainly among other veterans. The project can also help erase the unjustified stigma that some people place on low-income and affordable housing developments of all types. Military veterans who have served our country with distinction are not freeloaders. Some may have developed drug problems or suffer from post-traumatic stress and other ailments, but our duty is to help them re-integrate into general society, not to cast them aside.

Camp Salute sounds as if it can help accomplish that mission.”