Members of the community gathered to welcome Johnnie Hodges, Sr. back to the house he has called home for more than 60 years. In July, the 90 year-old World War II veteran was carried out of his home after falling behind in paying the bills while caring for his ailing wife. After hearing his story, people from across Western New York and the country came together to help Mr. Hodges return to his home.
"I watched my father exhibit unshakeable faith during a difficult transitional period of his life as a husband, caregiver and great father,” said Mr. Hodges daughter Robin Hodges. “During this journey, I personally witnessed many miracles right before my eyes! The scripture states: The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow to it. (Proverbs 10:22 NKJV) On this arduous journey there was no sorrow in our lives...ONLY FAITH in the Lord. To God be the Glory!"
“The best way to thank our veterans is through actions that demonstrate we appreciate their sacrifices and we are here to support them at home,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “We are happy to play a role in this homecoming which was made possible thanks to HUD’s guidance and through the actions of many who came forward in gratitude.”
"It has been gratifying to partner with so many people committed to helping Mr. Hodges and his daughter purchase and return to their long-time home," said Holly Leicht, HUD's Regional Administrator for New York and New Jersey. "Thanks particularly to Congressman Higgins' office, Lou Michel at The Buffalo News, countless benefactors who rallied to Mr. Hodges' cause, and the staff at HUD's Homeownership Center, today we at HUD can proudly say that we've fulfilled our mission to provide quality affordable housing for someone among the most deserving - a U.S. Veteran - and his family.”
Mr. Hodges began his service with the United States Navy on January 8, 1944 and following training in Bainbridge, Maryland, was stationed aboard the USS General Harry Taylor. Hodges served as a Stewards Mate Third Class on the troop transport ship during World War II, taking part in missions across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans until his honorable discharge on June 17, 1946.
Johnnie Hodges first settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where he met the love of this life, Flora Middlebrooks. Prior to their marriage, he applied for and was offered a position at the Bethlehem Steel Plant in Lackawanna, NY. In December of 1948, Johnnie and Flora bought their first home on East Utica Street in Buffalo. In 1956, the Hodges were looking for a bigger house and purchased a beautiful new home on Humboldt Parkway.
The dedication and work ethic Mr. Hodges groomed in the Navy helped him flourish here at home. While working at Bethlehem Steel he became the first African-American to serve as foreman in the coke oven division. In addition, Johnnie and Flora were entrepreneurs, owning a successful delicatessen on Jefferson Avenue from 1965 until 1973. After retirement from Bethlehem Steel in 1983 Mr. Hodges worked part-time as a school bus driver for Laidlaw for over 25 years, until retiring at the age of 85 to care for his wife, Flora whose health was declining due to Alzheimer’s disease.
"Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease requires years of strength, dedication and the kind of boundless resiliency that often requires everything else be put second. It is a long, uncertain and demanding journey under even the best of circumstances,” said Leilani Pelletier, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association of WNY. “Mr. and Mrs. Hodges fought a battle that thousands of our neighbors are fighting right now. I hope that their story will ignite in each caregiver, each neighbor, each citizen the awareness of the kind of strength Alzheimer's demands and that we are never truly alone. My deepest respect goes to Mr. Hodges. Welcome home to the place where boundless love and endless dedication has so obviously lived. "
With attention focused on health issues, the Hodges fell behind in their bills and faced foreclosure. After appearing in The Buffalo News, Mr. Hodges’ story spread and people from near and far came forward looking to help. Enough donations came in through a GoFundMe account to buy the home back and make much needed repairs to the property. Congressman Higgins’ office with great cooperation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development worked to guide the family through the process of reacquisition.
Greg Elwood, GoFundMe Campaign Organizer said, "This was an amazing experience for me. My sincere hope is that the campaign serves as an example of the great things that happen when people come together around a common cause."
On November 6, 2015 the Hodges family thanked all who came forward to help as the community welcomed them back to the Humboldt Parkway home.
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced a new online pre-pay option for commercial vehicles made available by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the latest effort to support a more efficient flow of traffic across the U.S./Canadian border crossings in Western New York.
“Antiquated payment procedures are slowing the movement of goods in commercial vehicles across the border and contributing to bottlenecks for passenger vehicles,” said Congressman Higgins. “Under this new program we remove what can be a time-consuming step, which is not only stalling traffic but stalling economic opportunity, from the border crossing process providing a win-win for travelers and for our regional and national economies.”
A pilot project will begin this month allowing commercial vehicle operators to prepay the single-crossing user fee online prior to arrival at a port of entry. Buffalo, NY is one of three sites nationwide, including Detroit and El Passo, which will test the effectiveness of the effort over a one year pilot period. Following the pilot, CBP will undertake a 90-day evaluation to consider implementation at all U.S. land ports of entry. The initiative, first announced by Congressman Higgins in February, was included in the FY2017 budget for the Department of Homeland Security.
According to information included in the DHS budget: The current manual process results in increased wait times and fuel costs for carriers and loss of work hours for CBP. For example, at the Port of Buffalo in FY 2015, approximately 1,700 work hours were spent performing cash collections on primary (each commercial truck inspection took an average of 80 – 90 seconds per vehicle). User fee collections for FY 2015 in the Port of Buffalo was approximately $774,000. This equates to approximately 72,000 collections (7.6 percent of commercial trucks). Preliminary analysis from an independent contractor indicates that implementing an automated user fee collection solution could result in a potential 6.5 percent decrease in processing times and 5.5 percent increase in throughput in Buffalo alone.
Currently, commercial vehicles crossing the border pay a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) user fee. Truck operators that cross the border on a regular basis frequently purchase a transponder containing information about the vehicle and border crossing user fee payment status, to allow for expedited processing. When commercial carriers don’t purchase an annual transponder, the driver is required to pay a $13.05 user fee per crossing. The collection of this user fee causes significant delays in cash collection, processing and backups on the bridge.
Under the new program commercial truck operators will be able to pay the single-crossing user fee online through the Decal/Transponder Online Procurement System website, which will include mobile phone friendly features. Users will receive payment confirmation via an electronic receipt.
Higgins notes the implementation of this pilot project comes at an ideal time, as the Peace Bridge Authority commences an $80.5 million redecking project at the Peace Bridge, which will require lane closings this fall. The resurfacing is part of a multi-phase $186 million renovation of the Peace Bridge.
Congressman Higgins is Co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus and a member of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security. Congressman Higgins’ Western New York district borders Southern Ontario and includes three automobile and two rail crossings between the United States and Canada.
Buffalo - Mayors of the Cities of Buffalo (Byron W. Brown), Niagara Falls (Paul Dyster), Lockport (Anne McCaffrey) and Tonawanda (Rick Davis) are pleased to announce an effective end to Veteran homelessness in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to action through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in Western New York (WNY). The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and United States Department of Veterans Affairs recently recognized the four cities for achieving significant federal benchmarks that resulted in an effective system to quickly identify homeless Veterans, provide immediate shelter to any Veteran experiencing unsheltered homelessness who wants it and, once they accept an offer of housing, are able to house them within 90 days.
City of Buffalo Mayor Brown stated, "Next month on Veterans Day, we'll come together to pay homage to our service members and Veterans who courageously served our great nation and it’s our responsibility to ensure that once our veterans have served their nation, they have a safe place to call home. Today, I'm honored to stand with the Mayors of Niagara Falls, Lockport and Tonawanda to report that homelessness among Veterans in our community has effectively ended. Thanks to a strong collaboration between government agencies, our community’s service and housing professionals who assist veterans and our many other partners, Buffalo has demonstrated that ending veteran homelessness is achievable. I congratulate everyone involved who worked tirelessly to give our veterans a dignified home, setting an example for communities across the nation. We owe our veterans our gratitude for their service and sacrifice to this nation and making sure they have a place to call home is a small but powerful way we can show our appreciation."
City of Niagara Falls Mayor Dyster said, “The hard work and countless hours put forth through this coordinated effort over the course of the last several years were no small feat, but pale in comparison to the dedication and sacrifice our Veterans have made on behalf of our country. It is because of them that we are here today. Our veterans deserve a place to call their own, and it is our duty to do all within our power to provide them with that basic right. I commend my fellow Mayors, our partners in government and in the community for taking a stand and setting a national example to effectively end Veterans homelessness once and for all.”
City of Lockport Mayor Anne McCaffrey stated, “We are so pleased that Lockport has achieved the distinction of ending homelessness among veterans. It takes dedicated community partners to ensure that resources are in place to help our veterans. Our communities are stronger because we’ve ensured adequate housing for our veterans.”
City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis stated, "As a veteran this is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. We as a country need to do more for my brothers and sisters. Veteran homelessness should be a top priority for everyone and I'm honored to have answered the call for all our veterans".
The Mayors’ Challenge was issued as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces Initiative June 4, 2014 as a goal to Prevent and End Veteran Homelessness before the end of 2017. The goal is to achieve and sustain “functional zero”—a well-coordinated and efficient community system that assures homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring and no Veteran is forced to live on the street. This means every Veteran has access to the support they need and want to move quickly to permanent housing. This does not mean that there are no homeless Veterans or no Veteran will become homeless in the future, but does mean there is an effective system in place to quickly identify homeless Veterans and, once they accept an offer of housing, are able to house them within 90 days.
“Our veterans deserve access to safe, affordable housing, and no one who has served their country should find themselves without a roof over their head. Which is why ending veterans homelessness in Western New York is so vital. This achievement has not come easily, and has required collaboration across federal, state, and local governments, as well as community organizations like One-stop. The Veterans One-stop Center of WNY is a great organization and I am proud to work with them to support the men and women who fought for our country and have sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Senator Chuck Schumer.
Congressman Brian Higgins said, “Thanking our veterans is about more than words. We demonstrate our gratitude best by understanding the challenges our veterans face and extending the same commitment to them as they’ve provided to this nation. This goal of functional zero veteran homelessness is made possible through a cohesive effort between local communities, government and the extremely dedicated Western New York service agencies whose commitment and collaboration continues to make a difference in the lives of those in need. I commend the project partners whose work demonstrates Western New York’s promise to leave no man, or woman, behind.”
“Our Veterans deserve to have the strongest support system available,” said Congressman Christopher Collins. “We must do more at all levels of government to ensure that every Veteran has the resources they need to succeed in our communities. I applaud the efforts of our mayors and will continue to do everything I can on the federal level to eliminate Veteran homelessness.”
Efforts to effectively end Veteran homelessness in our community began well before the First Lady’s official call to action, with significant infrastructure and systems put in place to assist any Veteran in obtaining a permanent home in the City of Buffalo, City of Lockport, City of Niagara Falls, City of Tonawanda and all of Erie, Niagara Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming Counties. Going back to 2008 the WNY community, including federal, local, and nonprofit entities represented by Department of Veterans Affairs-VA WNY Healthcare System, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, the Homeless Alliance of WNY gained momentum and partners to resource Veterans homelessness. Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) providers such as Veterans One-stop Center of WNY, Veterans Outreach Center Inc., and Pathstones Corporation have been critical to achieving this designation. Other key partners to include Grant and Per Diem (GPD) providers Cazenovia Recovery Systems and Altamont Veterans Program, Contract Residence Providers Eagle Star and Cornerstone Manor, WNY Veterans Housing Coalition, the City Mission, Community Missions Shelters and Lockport Cares, as well as Continuum of Care (Coc) programs such as street outreach, Rapid Re-housing (RRH) and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) working together are essential for the prevention of Veteran homelessness.
“This designation confirms the hard work our local partners have been doing to assist our most vulnerable Veterans. Through our close community partnerships, we have now become a national best practice model for service to homeless Veterans,” stated Dale Zuchlewski, Executive Director, Homeless Alliance of WNY.
“Achieving and maintaining functional zero for Veteran homelessness is a community effort that requires collaboration and accountability at all levels,” said Roger L. Woodworth, President & CEO of the Veterans One-stop Center of WNY. “This is an exciting designation for our region and an opportunity to be recognized for the impact of work our community has done and continues to do in empowering our Veterans.”
"Congratulations to all the partners in Buffalo and Western New York who have proven once again that homelessness is solvable,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "As leaders in communities across the country work together to implement effective strategies, our confidence grows that we will end homelessness, not just for Veterans, but for everyone.”
“New York/New Jersey VA Health Care Network is elated that Western New York has been recognized for having effectively ended Veteran homelessness,” said Joan E. McInerney, Network Director. “Western New York has demonstrated its commitment to meeting the needs of vulnerable Veterans, and VA is proud to be an integral part of the partnership network that will prevent Veterans from becoming homeless in the future."
Declaring the end of Veteran homelessness to functional zero required meeting several federal benchmarks. These benchmarks included identifying all Veterans experiencing homelessness, provide shelter immediately to any Veteran experiencing unsheltered homelessness who wants it, to only provide service-intensive transitional housing in limited instances, to build the capacity to assist Veterans to swiftly move into permanent housing, and to develop and execute resources, plans, and system capacity should any Veteran become homeless or be at-risk of homelessness in the future.
Brian Stiller, Director, VA Western New York Healthcare System shared, “VA strives to meet the needs of Veterans by providing various services to help them achieve their full potential. Often times, it’s linking them to health care, job training and community services that provide them skills to maintain permanent housing. Working with our WNY community partners is paramount to ensure Veterans are connected to services.”
If you know a Veteran who is homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, contact VA Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program at 716-862-8885, 1-877-4AID-VET 24 hours a day/7 days a week or the Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to VA services.
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced today that Buffalo biopharmaceutical company Cleveland BioLabs, Inc. has been awarded a grant of up to $6.6 million from the Department of Defense. This award will fund a clinical study designed to support a Biologics License Application (BLA) for entolimodas a medical radiation countermeasure.
“Groundbreaking scientific progress is happening right here in Western New York,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “This significant federal investment by the Department of Defense speaks to the innovative work being done at Cleveland BioLabs and Buffalo’s place as a leader in biopharmaceuticals and medicine.”
Entolimod is Cleveland BioLabs’ most advanced potential product. Its potential applications include reducing the risk of death from a radiation disaster and use as an immunotherapy for oncology.
Yakov Kogan, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer for Cleveland BioLabs, noted, “We are very grateful for Congressman Higgins’ support of Cleveland BioLabs and other Western New York companies involved in medical research. We are proud representatives of the growing base of biopharmaceutical development here in Buffalo and are committed to commercializing entolimod as a life-saving radiation countermeasure.”
Earlier this September, Cleveland BioLabs was awarded a $9.2 million contract from the Department of Defense to fund additional pivotal studies with entolimod supporting the same indication. With this new contract, the Department of Defense has awarded $15.8 million in new funding this month to Cleveland BioLabs for the advanced development of entolimod as a medical radiation countermeasure.
Cleveland BioLabs, Inc. is an innovative biopharmaceutical company developing novel approaches to activate the immune system and address serious medical needs. Their products have applications in radiation mitigation, cancer immunotherapy, and vaccines. The company has alliances with the Cleveland Clinic and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the nation’s first cancer center.
Congressman Higgins is a strong supporter of medical research funding. This week, he spoke on the House Floor as a part of the Rally for Medical Research on the need to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health.