Nonprofit groups serving at-risk veterans in Nassau and Suffolk will receive a combined $6.75 million in federal homelessness-prevention grants, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The grants will serve about 1,500 Long Island veterans and their families in both counties under the VA's Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Some of the veterans targeted are currently homeless, while others risk being out on the street, officials said.
The Long Island grants are part of the latest nationwide funding effort by the VA to assist local agencies find and help homeless veterans. On any given night nationwide, 58,000 veterans are homeless, according to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans. More than one in five of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"The truth is, we know there is a very large number of homeless veterans who are not counted," said Greta Guarton, director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. "They are sleeping on friends' couches or in their basement, or they are one paycheck away from being homeless."
Long Island social workers say several factors are responsible for the disproportionately high number of veterans who have no place of their own. The reasons include a relative scarcity of affordable housing on Long Island, difficulties many veterans experience with returning to civilian life, mental health issues and a reluctance among some veterans to accept help from the VA and other government agencies.
"There can be a whole host of reasons a veteran can become homeless or at risk of being homeless," said Beth Gabellini, director of Services for the UnderServed, a Farmingdale-based nonprofit that assists at-risk veterans and their families.
Gabellini's organization will receive $2 million of the announced grants, renewing a grant received last year.
She said the agency uses various strategies to prevent veterans from falling into homelessness, including paying rental arrears for veterans facing eviction, helping unemployed individuals find work, and walking veterans through the process of applying for VA health care, mental health services and disability payments.
Other agencies getting a portion of the grant include Brooklyn-based Black Veterans for Social Justice, which will receive $1.96 million for programs in Nassau, Suffolk and New York City.
Volunteers of America, Greater New York will receive $1.49 million for work in Nassau and New York City. The Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, based in Patchogue, will receive $1.3 million.