Nassau County officials on Thursday put out a call for affordable housing for veterans, saying that the county has at least 5,000 veterans who are homeless or "housing insecure."
“It’s heartbreaking, it really is,” said Ralph Esposito, director of veterans services for Nassau County. “They come to us every day" looking for housing.
The number of veterans in need of housing has grown partly because housing is so expensive in the county, he said.
Nassau is home to an estimated 50,000 veterans, one of the largest such populations in the state, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.
Esposito spoke at an event — four days before Veterans Day -- in front of the Freeport Armory during which Curran outlined the assistance the county is offering to veterans. It includes food, clothing, medical checkups, haircuts, counseling, dental services and job hiring programs.
The county is sponsoring a “Stand Down" event on Nov. 26 at the Armory from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to provide veterans with assistance and give them a Thanksgiving dinner.
“This Veterans Day I am urging local veterans to check in with the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency,” Curran said. “We want to make sure that every veteran in Nassau County is accounted for and is receiving the services and programs they deserve after selflessly serving our country.”
“We have a very precious thing in our democracy, and it's hard to repay the debt of gratitude," she added.
The agency has helped veterans obtain more than $7 million in benefits through October of this year, Curran said.
Earlier this year, Curran signed into law “Dignity for our Heroes” legislation aimed at ending homelessness for veterans. The Nassau Commission on Ending Veteran Homelessness that was created as a result is working on a comprehensive report to address the issue, she said.
“Our biggest problem today is homeless veterans. We need housing,” Esposito said. “They gave all. We are just going to give some back.”
The county holds the “Stand Down” event twice a year — in July and November. The number of vets who participate has grown from about 80 several years ago to about 300 now, Esposito said.