By Andrew Wroblewski
The Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, “or a holiday present” for Suffolk County veterans as the act’s author Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said, was signed into law on Dec. 22 – just in time for Christmas.
“We’re excited about the timing of the announcement,” Stern said. “It’s an important message to send at an important time of the year when the community comes together.”
A four-piece package of legislation, the act aims to end veterans’ homelessness in Suffolk County. It was announced on Aug. 4, 2014 with support from several politicians, including Town of Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone.
“This act once again reaffirms our very strong commitment to the veterans of Suffolk County,” Stern, chairman for the county’s Veterans & Seniors Committee, said. “From recognizing a need, to pursuing it, this shows the veterans – many of whom struggle in Suffolk County – that we’ll do all that we can to ensure they have a place that they can call home.”
With the act now official, it will aim to do just that through its four parts. The first establishes a web portal on the county’s website to help former members of the U.S. Armed Forces access vital services in government and the nonprofit sector. The final three pieces work in their separate ways to: maximize access to available housing for veterans, end housing discrimination against veterans and their families, and appoint a veterans service officer to the Suffolk County Department of Social Services.
For Peter Camporini, a formerly homeless veteran who now works for Services for the UnderServed and the United Veterans Beacon House, the act comes with a chance to eradicate the “preconceived notions” that people have for the homeless, he said.
“These people [homeless veterans] aren’t bad,” said Camporini, who served two tours, one in 2005 and another in 2007. “They just need help. They were there to help you and now they need your help in return. There are a good portion of veterans that do have a place and family to come home to, but a precious number that does not. Instead of scrutinizing them, now they’ll be able to get help.”
Camporini also hopes that the Suffolk County act will serve as a model for the rest of New York State and the nation to follow, a push that he “hopes to be every bit a part of,” as does Stern.
“This is an innovative, timely combination of several different aspects that I strongly believe will serve as a meaningful model for New York State and the rest of the nation,” Stern said.
With 700 veterans across Long Island alone facing homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Stern hopes to see other initiatives formed “to ensure all of our veterans and their families have a place to call home.”
But while the act was signed into law days before Christmas, and Stern hoped it’d serve as that perfect present for veterans, he stressed that this isn’t a once-and-done movement.
“This is an important message [ending veterans’ homelessness] to send not just during the holiday time,” he said “but throughout the entire year.”