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Veterans who have served our nation by putting their lives on the line through their military service too often find themselves facing the tragic circumstance of homelessness.
Now, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit, has committed itself to addressing this situation through a major new initiative: providing homes for homeless veterans.
“We owe so much to America’s veterans. These brave servicemen and women have made incredible sacrifices in order to protect this country,” Frank Siller, chairman and SEO of Tunnel to Towers, told Fox News Digital on Friday morning.
“At Tunnel to Towers, we knew we had an obligation to make sure they weren’t left struggling on the streets. We’re looking forward to the future and the progress we will make through our Veteran Homelessness Program,” he also said.
It will be nothing short of “life-changing,” added Bradley Blakeman, a senior adviser to Tunnel to Towers and to Frank Siller, who shared details with Fox News Digital in a phone interview this week.
“There are now three legs to the stool,” said Blakeman of the group’s expanding mission. “Previously, our mission was to pay off mortgages for fallen first responders and military killed in the line of duty leaving a family behind.”
The second “leg of the stool,” he said, is to provide smart homes for critically injured military and first responders injured in the line of duty.
“[Frank] Siller and the board recently said, ‘We have to do more — what are we missing?’” said Blakeman.
They soon came up with the third “leg of the stool”: eradicating homelessness among America’s veterans.
The nonprofit goes where the need is greatest: “If you build it, they won’t come — we have to go be where they are.”
“There are 40,000 veterans on our streets — it’s unacceptable,” said Blakeman.
Tunnel to Towers has already invested millions of dollars into this new mission just 120 days in, Blakeman noted.
The nonprofit, headquartered in Staten Island, N.Y., is now active in Riverside, Calif., as well as in Phoenix, Houston and Washington, D.C.
They’re looking to expand soon into Florida, New York and Georgia, too, Blakeman said.
The need for dignity
He shared additional details about the progress already made on the new initiative.
Blakeman said they are “housing people in Riverside, California, renovating property in Phoenix, closing on property in Houston, looking for property in Florida and in negotiations on property in D.C.”
He underscored the importance of dignity when it comes to assisting our veterans.
“It’s just not enough to provide a home and a roof,” he said. “We want to house folks in need in comfort and dignity, and we can do that — but we also need to provide services,” he said.
“Without services, we’re not providing the help these people need to either get back on their feet and rejoin their communities, or to live out the rest of their days in dignity and comfort.”
This new alliance ensures that Tunnel to Towers is providing “the best quality of housing complemented with the best quality of services available.”
To provide the crucial housing as well as much-needed services, Tunnel to Towers (t2t.org) has built an alliance with the nonprofit group U.S. VETS, headquartered in Los Angeles.
The group provides an array of programs and services, including physical and mental health services, job training and alcohol and drug therapies, said Blakeman.
Nearly 38,000 veterans experience homelessness — making up roughly 9% of all homeless adults, according to the U.S. VETS website.
“We know what we do well,” said Blakeman about Tunnel to Towers. “We build and help provide infrastructure — we have the capital. And we know what we don’t do — and that is the servicing. So, we got the best in the business.”
This new alliance ensures that Tunnel to Towers is providing “the best quality of housing complemented with the best quality of services available,” he said.
“Eventually we hope to totally eradicate veteran homelessness.”
Veteran in need of homes don’t have to find them, said Blakeman. Instead, the nonprofit goes where the need is greatest.
“If you build it, they won’t come — we have to go be where they are,” he explained.
“Homeless vets tend to congregate in the Sun Belt, where it’s easier to live, and in urban areas. We are not going to uproot them and take them from their familiar surroundings.”
Tunnel to Towers’ research, along with data from U.S. Census reports, indicates that the help is needed first in the states in which they’re now actively working — but their goals are big.
“Eventually we hope to totally eradicate veteran homelessness,” said Blakeman.
‘Determined to carry out his duty’
Tunnel to Towers has a dramatic and personal backstory, as many people know.
Frank Siller founded the nonprofit to honor and remember his brother, the late Stephen Siller — one of the many heroes of 9/11.
On that day in 2001, Stephen Siller, a husband, father of five and firefighter with Brooklyn’s Squad 1, had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf when he heard a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, according to the Tunnels to Towers website.
Stephen turned around and drove to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel — only to find it closed already for security purposes.
“The Sillers have turned their family’s tragedy into a blessing.”
“Determined to carry out his duty,” as the Tunnel to Towers website explains, Stephen “strapped 60 lbs. of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers” — where he “gave up his life while saving others.”
Blakeman’s own personal backstory echoes Siller’s.
Serving President George Bush on 9/11 as his gatekeeper and scheduler, Blakeman was in the West Wing when the White House had to be evacuated.
On that terrible day, Blakeman lost his nephew, a first responder who was in the South Tower.
Blakeman said it is “his honor” to help veterans.
“The Sillers have turned their family’s tragedy into a blessing,” he said. Stephen Siller is “living on” through all the people that the nonprofit has helped.
Blakeman said that Frank Siller likens life and those who sacrifice to “an hourglass,” noting, “You never get the sand back. And every grain is a life.”