ALBANY, N.Y. – A benefit concert was held Saturday night by the nonprofit organization Soldier On to raise funds to help local homeless veterans.
Two months ago, Thomas DeMayo was a homeless veteran living on the streets with health problems and nowhere to turn.
“I had nowhere else to go,” he said. “I was literally living under a bridge in a Seaside Heights, New Jersey.”
But a group called Soldier On found him and offered him a safe haven with housing and job placement.
“Everything is really good now,” he said. “My life is back on track.”
Soldier On’s CEO John Downing said DeMayo’s story is common in the United States. He said the organization estimates over 1,200 to 1,500 veterans do not have a safe place to sleep on any given night in the Albany region alone.
“This is an easily accessible area,” he said. “People come by bus, by rail, by car, end up getting services at the VA and then some of them never leave.”
As a result, Soldier On is planning to bring a safe haven for veterans to the Capital Region.
Soldier On plans to build new housing for veterans at the former Ann Lee Nursing Home. The project will cost $28 million, and the organization held events all day Saturday to raise funds.
Local vets said they jumped at the chance to show support.
“That’s what we’re here for – to support our veterans – and this home for the vets is the best thing that could ever happen,” veteran Robert Green said.
William Huffay agreed.
“There’s a need, especially for homeless vets who need some help,” he said.
Veteran Kenneth Pennock also praised Soldier On’s other resources.
“Financial problems; they help them with that,” he said. “It’s a really tremendous program they have going on.”
DeMayo said he thinks the housing is a great idea, and he knows the alternative better than most.
“Without Soldier On, you’re living on the street,” he said.
The all-day fundraising began with a motorcycle ride, included a street-fest and ended with the benefit concert that featured Charlie Daniels Band and Marshall Tucker Band.