Fractures have appeared in a plan to build a new Omaha housing project for homeless veterans, one week after Mayor Jim Suttle joined civic and business leaders at a City Hall press conference to build support for the effort.
The Homeless Veterans Project and Project Homeless Connect Omaha have ended their partnership to create a “Vets Town” development that aspires to use the Boys Town model to provide housing and job training for homeless veterans.
Organizers said last week they were in the earliest stages of raising the estimated $3 million needed to construct the facility, which was expected to house more than 100 residents at 23rd Street and Woolworth Avenue or the former Uta Halee Girls Village.
Now representatives from both organizations say they will move forward with separate plans using the “Vets Town” name, which both claim to own.
Mike Fornear, national operations manager for the Homeless Veterans Project, and Ed Shada, a local bank executive and head of Project Homeless Connect Omaha, disagreed on the circumstances behind the severed relationship, news of which took Suttle's office by surprise Monday.
“This just seemed to erupt out of thin air recently,” said Craig Howell, the city's chief service officer. “That's something between the two of them.”
Suttle's office said it would continue to work with Project Homeless Connect Omaha on efforts to help the homeless, a mayoral spokeswoman said.
Suttle will also remain a member of the Homeless Veterans Project's Nebraska board of governors.
It was unclear Monday whether other civic leaders would remain involved with the Homeless Veterans Project, including Tom Osborne, the University of Nebraska's athletic director; retired Navy Adm. Robert Bell; and retired banker Scott Bradley.
Fornear said he copyrighted the term “Vets Town” last summer for a transitional housing for veterans. In a statement Monday, Fornear said he explored redeveloping the former Dana College campus in Blair for such a project and eventually turned to Project Homeless Connect Omaha as a potential development partner.
Fornear's statement said Shada “surprised us by announcing he would begin fundraising” for the facility at last week's press conference. The statement said such work requires months of planning and a detailed business plan, but said no business plan exists.
“We would be accepting money under false pretenses, when there is no property owned or no business plan. You're asking people to give you money to put in your bank account,” he said in an interview.
“If he proceeds, we will go to court,” Fornear said of Shada.
Shada released a statement saying Fornear was well aware of the fundraising plans.
“It's inconceivable that he was not aware of the fundraising effort since he initiated it,” the statement said. “It's disappointing that Mr. Fornear is jeopardizing an important and needed project that has the potential of helping more than 100 homeless veterans.”
Shada said Fornear had no claim to the name “Vets Town” and said his attorneys had filed for use of the name and associated websites. Shada's side is evaluating project sites and has compiled an outline of costs potentially associated with the project.
“There's nothing that's sidetracked us at all,” Shada said. “Their organization is free to do whatever it wants to do, but Vets Town moves on and moves forward.”
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