The White Plains Examiner

$1.87 Million Grant Will Help House Homeless Vets

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Representatives Engle, Lowey and Maloney with partners. Paige Leskin Photo.
Representatives Engle, Lowey and Maloney with partners. Paige Leskin Photo.

By Paige Leskin: Federal funding from the Department of Veteran Affairs was granted to help homeless veterans and their families in the Hudson Valley area, announced Congress representatives and local veteran service providers at a press conference on Monday.

“We work hard together to ensure that our veterans are getting the services they need,” said Congressman Nita Lowey (D), Representative of New York’s 17th congressional district. Among the organizations involved in this effort are Westchester Community Opportunity Program, Inc. (WestCOP), Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, and United Way.

The grant, in the form of $1.87 million, will take effect on October 1, when the new veteran homelessness initiative begins. The funding will supersede last year’s program, which was run on $936,025.

The money will go directly towards placing war veterans in permanent homes, not in shelters or temporary housing. It will help to pay rent, security deposits, brokerage fees, and other costs of shelter.

Many of the people involved stressed their gratitude for the veterans’ service to their country, and that deserved coming home and having housing opportunities.

“It’s a national disgrace that a veteran is homeless, that they can’t get a job when they come home,” said Congressman Eliot Engel (D), Representative of New York’s 16th congressional district. “We have a much better feel about what sacrifices veterans make.”

Kiron Dawkins led the action of turning the focus of veteran service groups to housing. As the Regional Director of Employment, Training, & Community Action at WestCOP, he worked with many veterans and their families, and realized many of them had housing issues. “I was dissatisfied with the resources available to help,” Dawkins said.

In October 2011, Dawkins helped to launch regional presences of programs to help specifically with housing for veterans. The program established certain criteria for the people they could help: the individuals had to be in the low-income bracket and at risk of homelessness or already homeless. So far in the Hudson Valley area, the programs have aided 450 veterans’ families in the community, and are continuing to help more.

But, Dawkins said, they always need more money. “Every effort we’ve made, it’s not enough,” he said. “We stretch the dollar as far as possible.”

The representatives in Congress said they had been asking for money to help homeless veterans for a few years now, but the troubling state of the economy had halted their fight. “The sequester had a tremendous impact on the military,” Congressman Lowey said.

With the increased funding, Dawkins said, many more services can be provided to veterans. The Legal Services of the Hudson Valley is providing free counsel to veterans, but not just concerning eviction notices. They are also giving services for credit problems, licenses, and child support.

One such person who has benefited from these established programs is Tanisha Terry Settles, who works at WestCOP. Settles is a US Navy veteran who served overseas in Japan. After being laid off from a job at the Department of Education when she was home, she found herself homeless, and stayed in that condition for one year.

“There was no way to climb out of the abyss,” she said. “I thought, I did all of [the service] for nothing, nobody’s giving it back to me.”

Fortunately, Terry discovered she was eligible for the homeless veteran program, and was able to get back on her feet. She uses her personal experience to connect with other veterans who are now looking for housing and aid.

“It’s a closed society; I didn’t want to open up,” she said. Terry explained that veterans find comfort in knowing she shared their suffering, that she’s been there before. “It’s hard to ask for help.”

Terry, WestCOP, and the rest of partners who are part of the programs emphasized that they realize homelessness of veterans is a national issue, and one that cannot be fixed easily and rapidly.

“The problems don’t stop at a congressional or county line,” said Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D), Representative of New York’s 18th congressional district. He explained how a comprehensive plan would ensure the success of the program. “We have a long-term project ahead of us.”

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