A countywide housing initiative recently got a bit sweeter for veterans and people with disabilities.
Public officials, veterans and disability advocates together with community members gathered Friday, June 9, at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, where Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) ceremonially signed two landmark pieces of legislation.
U.S. Census Bureau data indicates Suffolk County is home to over 56,000 veterans, the highest concentration of any county across New York state and among the highest in the nation. The census also indicates that 6.1% of the county’s 1.5 million residents are with a disability under 65.
Under the new local laws passed unanimously by the Suffolk County Legislature last December and signed officially by Bellone in January, funds and housing units will now be set aside to accommodate veterans and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“We are committed to, in this county, making sure that everyone in our community is included,” Bellone said during the recent ceremony.
The two bipartisan legislative packages were introduced by Majority Leader Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) and Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), among others.
Caracappa, who chairs the county’s Veterans & Consumer Affairs Committee, noted the sizable veteran and disabled populations, suggesting the county is pursuing a proper course for these historically underserved communities.
“We have far too many veterans on our streets [who are] homeless,” he said. “We have far too many individuals, family members, neighbors, friends with disabilities who are willing, able, ready for a life of independence and dignity.”
Kennedy decried the lack of initiative across all levels of government in supporting these demographics. “We would be nowhere without our veterans, and we have done so little to assist them as life goes on,” she said. “This is us moving forward.”
The county legislator added, “For those with impaired abilities, they deserve to live on their own.”
Trish Calandra of Wading River, in an emotional address, shared the story of her two children with autism, who are both now living on their own.
“To see them living this great life was something I really needed to help others achieve,” she said. “There’s still more to do. We need to get this across this state. We need to get this across this country. We have so many people who need assistance and need help.”
Tom Ronayne, director of Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, celebrated the legislation, noting that Suffolk County has “set the bar high.”
“For the people who are most directly affected by what is happening here today, their lives are changed profoundly,” he said. “They can lay down and go to sleep knowing that they have a safe, affordable place to live and that tomorrow will not challenge them in the ways that yesterday may have.”
He concluded, “Welcome to Suffolk County because this is how we do it here.”