Northport VA Medical Center
Helping Long Island's Homeless Veterans
In the past several years, great strides have been made in helping reduce the rate of homelessness in Long Island’s veteran population. Now, thanks to the multiple resources available through the VA and community providers, homelessness in veterans on Long Island was reduced to a “functional zero.” Greg Curran, LCSW Social Work Service/Homeless Program Manager, discussed what exactly this means, some resources that are available, and some future goals for continued improvement in the lives of homeless or at-risk veterans. The Summit Meeting/VA CHALENG at the Northport VAMC then allowed for a meeting of the minds to help continue the work of improving the lives of veterans.
Homeless Services is able to help any veteran who wants it get housing assistance. This was done by creating a system of emergency housing (getting veterans immediate shelter), transitional housing (which gives people with mental illness, substance use or vocational issues time to address these issues before moving on to independent housing in the community), and then working towards getting veterans and their dependent family members permanent housing. “We’ve developed a system able to house any veteran who wants it immediately.”
Curran acknowledges that the “complete elimination” is virtually impossible, for various reasons such as people do not always want help and the number of homeless veterans is always changing. “New people are always becoming homeless but we have created a system that can absorb them. The VA is able to provide immediate shelter for individual veterans, and by working with local social services, can also help any Veteran with dependent family members who need immediate housing.
While a system has been put in place to help veterans find immediate shelter, Curran still hopes to solve the underlying problem of homelessness. Curran said that in the past, the most common cause of homelessness was mental illness or substance use. Now, it appears that a lack of affordable housing and employment that pays a living wage have become significant factors that contribute to homelessness. With outreach programs and events such as the VA Homeless Summit and the VA CHALENG, this allows people to see what kinds of resources they have access to while having VA employees come to a meeting of the minds as to what sorts of improvements can be made.
The focus of the next Summit Meeting/VA CHALENG, held on July 19, 2016 at the Northport VA Medical Center, focused on improving employment rates among homeless or at-risk veterans. Curran says that they can help with resumes, vocational training, and even help them get access to job opportunities. Curran says they are hoping to create a “one-stop shop” that is more supportive to the veteran in helping them obtain a job with an income that can provide sustainable housing as well as groceries, transportation, car care, etc.
During the Summit Meeting/VA CHALENG, workers from various departments of the VA and other agencies gathered at the Northport VAMC to work toward improving the “underlying cause” of homelessness. After the some welcoming remarks to thank the workers for their dedication to helping homeless veterans, Suzanne Bobka, LCSW, HCHV Social Worker, spoke about the importance of the CHALENG survey. Bobka explained how CHALENG worked in two parts: the survey to show what needs are not being met, and the meetings that allow people to come together to try to find a solution.
Curran then provided an overview of Northport VAMC Homeless Services. Curran said the CHALENG strengthens existing relationships between other people working to improve this problem and helps develop new ones by giving them the chance to sit down and brainstorm with people from other agencies about what resources people have and what improvements can be made. “We’ve created a system that has demonstrated ability to house veterans who want shelter,” Curran stated in his speech. He also spoke about the importance of the day’s focus: employment. “We need to eliminate the underlying cause [of homelessness].”
Curran sited the different resources and services that are available to homeless or at-risk veterans including, Emergency Housing Program, United Veterans Beacon House, Transitional Housing, HUD-VASH, Liberty Village in Amityville, and many others. He also expressed the importance of outreach to both veterans who need these resources and workers who may be able to help veterans access them. He also went over some “Unmet Needs of 2015,” but said that since people are having difficulty accessing the surveys, these may not be fully accurate - one of the reasons why outreach is so important.
After some attendees asked questions and shared some of their own resources and stories, there was a brief break in the event. Then, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, US Representative Serving New York’s Fourth Congressional District, made her keynote speech.
Rice thanked everyone for coming and for being invited to speak. She spoke about the issue of veteran homelessness stated that it was a “moral failing on the country’s part.” She too said that the underlying problem of homelessness needs to be addressed and said that “the transition back into civilian life” has many obstacles such as substance use and lack of support. She cited that many improvements have been but that the problem is not yet over because new people are always becoming homeless or at-risk, saying that they need to act faster to find them housing, healthcare and job opportunities.
Rice then went on to speak about some things she is working on to help improve the lives of veterans. Including, the BRAVE Act, the Reintegration Program, and the Veterans Dental Insurance Program. She concluded her speech by thanking all veterans in attendance for their service and thanking all those who help them. “My door is always open to help support.”
James Fleischmann MS, CRC, Chief of Vocation Rehabilitation Service, then provided an overview of the Northport VAMC Vocational Rehabilitation services available. Fleischmann stated that in the past year, over 650 veterans had received vocational rehabilitation and that 221 veterans are currently receiving ongoing assistance. He spoke of services such as career counseling, vocational assistance and some additional programs to help veterans with job training and search for employment opportunities.
After a break for lunch, all in attendance broke up into groups of people who perform certain jobs: employment readiness, employment finding, and employers. During this time, people were able to converse and share ideas and resources about how to meet the needs of the veteran population in need of employment assistance. After a few hours of collaboration, the event concluded.
The continued hard work and dedication has made a significant improvement for homeless veterans of Long Island. Through the outreach programs and resources made available, veterans have access to means that can make many improvements in their lives by helping them find shelter and even jobs. Though the “elimination” of homelessness does not mean that it does not exist at all, anyone who wants shelter has immediate access to it and additional resources.