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 that very same soil.
“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, Stern introduced the Housing Homeless Heroes Act, hoping to combat the problem facing over 700 veterans across Suffolk County, 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 be 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 legislations 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.
Next, 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.
The third bill is an amendment to Chapter 528 of Suffolk County’s code that aims to extend coverage of unlawful discriminatory housing acts against veterans so that they cannot 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.
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.”
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 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.