TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, New York, August 7
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
When a member of the United States Armed Forces leaves the country to defend the soil over 300 million people stand on, Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) believes that person shouldn’t have to return home and sleep on it.
“Suffolk County is the largest county when it comes to the population of veterans in New York and we take great pride in that,” Stern said on Friday. “But, unfortunately, that also means we have a high population of homeless veterans to go along with it and it’s an issue of concern to all of us.”
On Monday at the Armed Forces Plaza in Hauppauge, Stern introduced the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, hoping to combat the problem facing over 700 veterans across Long Island – according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“The act includes four bills that will help protect veterans from housing discrimination,” Stern, also chairman of the county’s Veterans and Seniors Committee, said. “Along with that, they’ll provide additional housing resources and enhance services to cut the red tape and help homeless veterans, their families and those at risk of homelessness get back on their feet.”
There is no session planned to review the act this month, Stern’s office said on Monday, but soon the four bills – which work in conjunction with several agencies and community advocates serving veterans – will be laid on the table and decided upon.
Still, on Monday, Stern, along with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Congressman Tim Bishop and Town of Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone, seemed excited to just get the idea out into the open.
“It feels great… The people who spoke today are fully committed,” Petrone, whose daughter Julie serves in the U.S. Air Force, said. “All of us have been trying to do our things, but a coordinated voice with a piece of legislation that shows a major commitment – that helps.”
As for the bills themselves, the first of the four is a broader, overreaching piece of legislation that looks to establish partnerships with government agencies and nonprofits to “get everyone on the same page,” according to Stern’s office, and establish a web portal on the Suffolk County website that will allow veterans access to documents and services available to them when forced to the brink of homelessness.
The second bill aims to utilize Suffolk County’s housing assets in a way that’s beneficial to veterans by allowing the county to transfer extra property to not-for-profit corporations in order to establish affordable workforce housing.
Third, an amendment to Chapter 528 of Suffolk County’s code extends coverage of unlawful discriminatory housing acts to veterans so that they can no longer be denied housing simply because they receive financial assistance from the government.
Finally, the fourth proposed bill hopes to improve veteran interactions at the Department of Social Services. By assigning veterans from the County Veterans Services Agency to the department, the bill hopes to save veterans seeking assistance from having to make two trips along with providing a person to talk to that’s fully knowledgeable as to what’s available to veterans.
The act, said John Sperandeo, chief of the Northport VA Medical Center’s social work services, lines up nicely with the five-year plan unveiled by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2010 to prevent and end homelessness amongst America’s veterans.
“We all have the same mission to help homeless veterans and their families get both the health and mental services they need along with securing permanent housing,” Sperandeo, a licensed clinical social worker of Northport, said. “I think [the legislation]… supports what the VA and what many of the agencies that attended the conference are doing.”
Four years ago, when the VA put its plan to end homelessness into action, Sperandeo said there were approximately 200,000 homeless veterans in the nation – with 3,000 on Long Island. Now, that number has dropped to 60,000 in the country – with a similar decrease in Nassau and Suffolk.
“I think we’ve really come a long way,” Sperandeo, who has been with the Northport center for the last 25 years, said. “From my perspective, I think this is a good piece of legislation… If it results in one less homeless veteran, then it’s a success.”
With what the legislator feels has been positive response, Stern believes that his, and his colleagues’, push to end homelessness among veterans will make it through Suffolk – and then continue on even further.
“I’m very excited for this initiative,” Stern said on Friday. “First we’re going to accomplish this goal in Suffolk County, then we’re going to push to end veterans’ homelessness in all of New York.”
In the meantime, veterans from Suffolk County met the proposition with warm reception.
“Hopefully I’ll never partake in it, but for the guys who need [the help] it’s super,” Charlie Armstrong, sergeant at arms for American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244, said. “I’ve been volunteering with the Veterans Stand Downs that the county have and with the veterans’ administration up in Northport, so [seeing something like the Housing Homeless Heroes Act] is great. It’s just great.”
On Monday, Petrone also pointed out two Huntington-centric initiatives also aimed at ending homelessness for veterans across the township.
“We have two projects, two housing programs that are for the veterans,” Petrone said of the upcoming Columbia Street and Ruland Road projects, which will give preference and exclusive housing to veterans in Huntington Station and Melville, respectively, “and any of the others [projects] that we do we look to accomplish, where we can, veterans preferences.”
Both Petrone and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson also announced on Monday a resolution expected to be on the August town board agenda that will request the Suffolk County Legislature approve the proposed act.
Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills (Thursday, August 7, 2014; Front page)