Long Island has made significant strides in addressing homelessness among its war veterans in recent years, federal officials said Monday.
Mirroring national trends, the number of homeless vets in Nassau and Suffolk counties fell in the past year by 4.25 percent, to 135 from 141, according to figures released by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. As recently as 2011, the number of homeless vets on the Island had been 439, HUD officials said.
HUD officials released the figures while announcing the availability of $245,000 worth of vouchers to help veterans and their families avoid or escape homelessness.
Long Island officials pointed to programs administered by local government and nonprofits aimed at assisting veterans who struggle to find affordable homes and adequate employment after they return from war zones.
“Long Island’s done a really good job of reducing veterans' homelessness," said Ralph Fasano, executive director of Concern for Independent Living, a Medford-based nonprofit that has developed veterans housing projects in Amityville and Ronkonkoma. "We’re at a point now where when veterans are homeless, they don’t stay homeless for long.”
The voucher program, called Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, or VASH, is intended to help veterans and their families pay rent and access support services through the VA. HUD said 25 vouchers are available to Long Island veterans.
Locally, VASH is administered by the Northport VA hospital.
Greta Guarton, executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, said the program “allows for veterans that otherwise may not be able to afford housing on Long Island to be able to access appropriate affordable housing.”
Babylon Supervisor Richard Schaffer called VASH "a really great program" that would help further reduce the number of homeless vets on the Island.
"We shouldn’t stop until we’re down to zero,” Schaffer said. “I know we’ve spent a lot of time not just addressing the issue of homelessness, but addressing the issues of those younger vets who are just getting back from the service and are trying to get back into the work force.”
Nationwide, HUD counted 37,878 homeless veterans, a 5.8 percent decrease from the 40,020 reported last year. Those figures include veterans living in shelters and in "places not meant for human habitation," HUD said in a news release.
In New York state, homelessness among vets declined 1.6 percent, from 1,244 to 1,224, HUD said.
Guarton said that while homelessness among vets has not been wiped out, her group and others have sufficient resources to find homes for service members within 90 days after they lose their homes.
“The amount of housing and resources that we have is enough to assist any veteran who is in need of any housing or assistance,” she said. “We’re getting closer to zero."