The former Veterans Place on Mill Road in Yaphank opened 26...

The former Veterans Place on Mill Road in Yaphank opened 26 years ago as a group home offering transitional and temporary housing for veterans. Credit: John Roca

A longtime Yaphank shelter for homeless veterans has closed and the building and property are on the market as the nonprofit that ran it said it has invested in other options to help former service members in need.

The Veterans Place, a 23-bed shelter that operated on Mill Road since 1996, closed as the need to house homeless vets has dwindled, said Colleen Merlo, CEO of the Ronkonkoma-based Association for Mental Health and Wellness. The organization ran the facility through its subsidiary, United Veterans of Suffolk County, and now hopes to sell the property, which was once a motel.

Officials closed the facility in January.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Michael Loguercio said he has asked the town to appraise the property and consider preserving it as either open space or park land. The parcel is across the road from Lower Yaphank Lake, part of the Carman’s River system.

HELP WITH HOUSING

In just over the past decade, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States was cut almost in half, from 74,087 in 2010 to 37,252 in 2020, according to the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

The VA established a nationwide goal to house 38,000 homeless veterans in 2022.

The agency announced in March that it would award $64.7 million in grants to community organizations nationwide to improve the quality of housing options for veterans experiencing homelessness.

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

“I think the community would be very happy to hear that,” Linda Petersen, president of the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association, said recently of Loguercio’s plan. “It’s right near the lake. I think that would be a good use of the property.” 

According to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, there are 102 single adults in Suffolk County who are confirmed veterans. Of those, 67 are in federal Department of Veterans Affairs transitional and bridge housing, 33 are in a VA emergency shelter and two are in shelters operated by the county’s Department of Social Services.

The coalition said there are an estimated 3,200 homeless people on Long Island.

The Yaphank facility opened 26 years ago as a group home offering transitional and temporary housing for veterans, who at the time totaled 530 in Suffolk County, according to Newsday archives. Merlo said Long Island organizations like hers have focused on building “safe, permanent housing for veterans” rather than facilities like the Yaphank site, which was seen as temporary.

“As veterans came in, we were able to move them out quite quickly,” Merlo said. “The same need wasn't there because there’s more resources in the community, as far as permanent and appropriate housing for homeless veterans.”

The 16 residents who were living there at the time, only half of whom were veterans, were moved to other facilities, Merlo said. The organization currently has 23 other beds for veterans in homes and congregant settings.

“That’s not to say that there are not still significant needs for veterans,” she said. “But I think that the resources that are in place are allowing individuals to not remain homeless for very long.”

The organization, which operated with funding from Suffolk County, will continue to support veterans by connecting them with permanent housing, peer mentoring and support through its Joseph P. Dwyer Project, a food pantry and other ways, Merlo said. 

Any veterans in need of assistance can call 631-471-7242, Merlo said.

The facility provided refuge to many vets over the years and was the location of a food pantry and Thanksgiving food drives helping the needy. It was also the site of at least one violent incident.

A then-29-year-old Army veteran pleaded “not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect” to bludgeoning his 58-year-old roommate to death there in 2017.

Petersen said she believes other locations would be better to serve veterans, as the facility was aging and located on a road traveled by fast-moving cars exiting the Long Island Expressway.

“They [veterans] deserve to have the best possible after all their service to the country,” she said. 

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