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Former Marine Trying to Turn Late Father's Home Into Veterans' Housing

By Eddie Small | May 20, 2014 6:47am
 Gonzalo Duran is attempting to turn his father's old house into a place for veterans to stay.
Housing for Veterans
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BELMONT — The house at 2381 Lorillard Place is not in good shape. Its windows are boarded up, paint is peeling off of the walls and ceilings, and the upstairs toilet has no water in the bowl, just a translucent covering that reads “winterized.”

Despite its condition, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sgt. Gonzalo Duran has big plans for the former home of his father, Vicente Duran, who died in 2010. Over the next few months, he hopes to transform it into temporary housing for as many as 20 veterans who are returning home.

Duran served in the Marines from 2003 until 2011, earning awards including a National Defense Service Medal and a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He was deployed to Iraq from February to October 2008, he said.

Despite these honors, he found himself homeless for four months in 2011, he said. He moved in with his mother and eventually found a place of his own on Cambreleng Avenue.

“I was jumping around anybody’s couch that they would let me stay in,” he said. “There were points, periods where I was staying in I guess a shelter. Obviously, I was trying to progress as best as I could.”

Duran’s own experience as a returning Marine inspired him to try to help other veterans, in a project he started in January. He's creating a nonprofit, which should expedite the process.

The respect for veterans he sees in his community also played a role, as did a conversation he had in November with Yegor Zubarev, a fellow Marine and Fordham University classmate.

"I found out that he was homeless, living in a shelter, literally maybe like a mile and a half from here," said Duran, who was one of the approximately 1,600 homeless veterans in the city, according to the Department of Homeless Services.

Zubarev, who said he served in the Marines from 2007 until 2011, said homeless veterans need extra help.

"I think that’s a very good idea," Zubarev said about Duran's plan. "If something like that existed when I came out, it would have saved me a lot of effort. It was hard coming back."

Duran runs an advocacy organization called Devil Dog USA at 4555 Third Ave., near East 184th Street, which he founded in January 2012.

The organization aims to help returning veterans by providing them with opportunities for recreation, guiding them to neighborhood resources and helping them find housing.

“Organizations that veterans wouldn’t know about, we direct them to,” he said.

Duran is also trying to use this project to help prevent his father's old home from going into foreclosure. BSI Financial, the institution that would manage the foreclosure, directed questions about the house to debt collection company 3Point Real Estate Solutions, which declined to comment.

If he gets the proper permits, Duran hopes to fix the electricity and plumbing in the house and turn the side lawn into a driveway with room for an 18-person van and boat. He also wants to level the backyard and turn it into space where veterans can play volleyball and golf.

“It’d be better looking than weeds,” he said.

When the renovations and yard finished, Duran said he hopes to have about 20 people live there and have it open year-round, to prevent veterans from having to struggle in the cold.

According to DHS, if Duran wanted to turn the space into a shelter, he would have to get approval from the agency. The Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs referred him to DHS after a May 13 email.

Duran will have to hire an architect and draw up plans for the project before the Department of Buildings will be able to determine what types of permits or approvals he would need, according to an official from the agency.

Duran emphasized that helping with the project does not necessarily mean donating money. It could also mean donating equipment that could help former soldiers relax.

"There are people that have golf clubs that they don't want and they're going to throw away," he said. "We can get that, and we can use that to teach veterans how to golf."

Duran hopes to help newer veterans have an easier transition to civilian life than he did, and he would like his plan for the Lorillard Place home to serve as an inspiration for similar projects.

"This is going to be the new model for others," he said. "So, if I can do this, then I believe other organizations and other individuals, American citizens, are going to do the same thing."