The Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s homeless shelter closed their doors for repairs 18 months ago and never reopened.
Congressional leaders from all four Long Island districts want to know why and are demanding that the 50-bed facility, which they say is ready for inhabitants, welcome homeless veterans once again.
“The closure of Northport’s on-site homeless shelter has forced veterans to find accommodations far from the medical services they need — the services that oftentimes help mitigate the root causes of homelessness,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in a prepared joint statement.
The veterans who stayed at the VA’s shelter suffered mainly from traumatic brain injury, post- traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to Frank Amalfitano, president and CEO of Beacon House, the non-profit entity that managed the facility before it closed.
“It would be a tragedy if the place didn’t reopen, because so many people need the convenience of the services offered in one location,” he said.
Northport’s shelter closed in January 2018 for renovations to the heating system. Its closure was prolonged because the contractor hired by VA failed to update the building in accordance with current fire codes, according to information provided by Long Island’s congressional leaders.
“As it has been presented to us, Building 11 has now been brought up to code and is ready to be inhabited,” they said in a press release. “However, due to VA’s decision to terminate the on-site contract with Building 11’s vendor, with neither a communicated reason nor a viable replacement, we now find ourselves sixteen months later with a renovated building and no vendor in place to provide this vital service to our community’s veterans.”
Levi Spellman, press officer for the Northport VA Medical Center, said the contracting requirements are changing for the shelter, so that it can potentially be awarded to a for-profit, veteran-owned business. “We are actively expediting this process and anticipate resuming on-site services before the end of the year,” he said. Spellman also stated that Beacon has done a great job for the VA. “Although housing moved off-site, the same vendor is managing those shelters and the care we provide our veterans has not changed.”
Amalfitano said his contract for the Northport shelter was supposed to last until 2020. He’s been encouraged to reapply, but his organization may no longer qualify.
Beacon House manages 42 residential programs in Nassau and Suffolk counties for veterans. The mission of the 25-year-old, non-profit, which is funded by United Way, is to “help veterans regain their self-worth and empower them with the tools necessary to rejoin their communities as independent and productive citizens.”