A homeless shelter at the Northport VA Medical Center that has been shuttered for three straight winters — to the outrage of some local veterans and politicians — will reopen by early May, officials said.
The 34-bed shelter is scheduled to reopen in late April or by May 1 at the latest after it closed in February 2018 when a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system failed following a record cold stretch.
The reopened facility — in Building 11 — will be run by United Veterans Beacon House Inc., a Bay Shore-based nonprofit. The group won a five-year contract for close to $8 million to operate the shelter, said Frank Amalfitano, president and CEO of United Veterans. That will pay for staff, food, transportation, programs and other expenses
“It’s pathetic that it took this long to reopen this important facility,” said Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). “It’s more a function of the revolving door of administrators and the awful bureaucracy of the federal government than of any single person’s malfeasance or incompetence.”
Despite the delays, Suozzi said, “I want to congratulate the new Northport director, Antonio Sanchez, who in the short time he has been there has managed to push this through the bureaucracy.”
John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, called the delayed reopening “ludicrous.”
“They had this perfectly running thing and it was doing great and they have these great organizations out there supporting the whole thing,” he said. “I don’t know why they can’t fix that thing and get it running.”
Veterans Affairs officials said the government was working on getting the shelter back in service as soon as possible within the constraints of the federal bureaucracy.
“We have been working diligently to get that shelter reopened on our campus grounds,” said Northport VA spokesman Levi Spellman. “While we would all like to see things move along a little faster, we are required to operate within the bounds of the law.”
In the meantime, the VA opened two alternative shelters run by United Veterans — in Bay Shore and Riverhead — to house the men during the repairs, and ran a shuttle service to the main facility so they could get services, Spellman said.
“There has never been a gap in shelter service to our veterans facing housing insecurity,” he said.
It is important the shelter is on the grounds of the main VA facility, Rowan said, so the veterans can easily access medical services.
“If they are homeless they are not just homeless. The odds are there is something else going on, either mental health or physical health or both,” he said.
He noted that Nassau and Suffolk have a total 130,000 veterans including many from the Vietnam War who have health problems linked to Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant widely used by the United States during the war.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a veteran himself said: “The men and women who go to Northport have put their lives on the line for us and the VA must always strive to do its best. Three winters without Building 11 are three winters too long.”
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said officials now need to "expose why the Northport shelter was shuttered for so long and what changes are needed to prevent it from ever happening again."