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Long Island Coalition for the Homeless

From left, PJSTCA President Ira Costell with Jessica Labia and Dwayne Brown of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association addressed issues regarding the unhoused at its general meeting Tuesday, July 25.

The civic meeting was joined by Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder and executive director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, as well as officers from the Suffolk County Police Department and members of an organization that helps the homeless 

During the meeting, Pizzarelli shared his experience assisting the homeless, including his meeting of a homeless Vietnam war veteran 35 years ago who was sleeping in a box village in the middle of winter.

The distraught veteran, who was most likely struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, came to Pizzarelli after one of his friends who was also living in the box village froze to death.

After finding there was little help offered for homeless veterans, Pizzarelli started Pax Christi Hospitality Center, an emergency shelter for men in Port Jefferson.

Pizzarelli expressed that a stronger partnership is needed between social services, the community and law enforcement. However, Pizzarelli also noted that law enforcement’s hands are tied in many situations, though they have always “been willing to be a part of the conversation.”

Pizzarelli highlighted the lack of treatment facilities and steps in place to help people in the homeless community.

“The social networking that was in place 35 years ago is nonexistent,” Pizzarelli said. “It’s just a repetitive cycle of setting people up for failure.”

For example, there is a lack of transitional housing for people once they leave a shelter such as Pax Christi, and the ones that are there, “you wouldn’t want a rat to live in,” he said.

A Suffolk County police officer spoke about what is and is not considered a crime when it comes to homelessness, and the role that the police can play.

“We’re not allowed to arrest people for being homeless, we’re not allowed to arrest people for begging,” the officer clarified.

“It used to be against the New York State Penal Law to stand in front of a business and beg. That was taken off the books, so what we’re left with is a [state] Vehicle and Traffic Law, because realistically, it’s not going to solve the problem, us arresting them at that specific moment,” the officer continued.

The officer said police can write a person a traffic ticket if they are on a road begging, which could possibly lead to a warrant and then an arrest, but reiterated the police cannot simply make an arrest for begging.

There are also laws in place that allow police to take a person into custody if they are deemed to be either a danger to themselves or others. However, the officer explained that the law’s threshold criteria is very high.

The police department has also put the Behavioral Health Unit to effect.

“We have these officers; they go out to these specific locations where the homeless people … are, and we try to attack it [by] offering them social services such as housing and drug counseling, and we hope that they will voluntarily take it,” the officer said.

Jessica Labia and Dwayne Brown of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless were also in attendance to speak on issues. Labia furthered the point of the lack of resources, saying, “The more resources that are put into folks that are experiencing homelessness or low income on Long Island, the more we’re able to help them get into housing.”

She also suggested that arresting homeless people wasn’t helpful, as it can make it more difficult to house people when they have a criminal history.

Labia and Brown reminded everyone that homelessness was not just in the Port Jefferson Station area, but rather Long Island as a whole has between 3,000 and 4,000 homeless people on any given night.

Devon Toney, above, recently entered a stable living arrangement, fleeing homelessness. Despite the turn in his story, homelessness remains a reality for many across Long Island and the United States. Photo by Heartsong, courtesy Toney

A year ago, Devon Toney was among the countless ranks of Long Island’s homeless.

After serving out a 17-year prison sentence, Toney spent years moving from place to place, his nights often spent at bus and train stations. Unable to cohabitate with others due to years of trauma inflicted early on in life and prison, he turned away from the shelter system. [See earlier Toney story, “Homelessness: A national disgrace and a thorny issue.”]

During his prolonged period of homelessness, Toney characterized himself as “very undesirable to everybody,” his frustrations externalized in fits of rage. Now this cycle has been broken and, for once, he said he has found stability.

‘Stability just makes me a different person, a more desirable person.’

— Devon Toney

Thanks to the assistance of various community organizations, Toney has recently entered a stable housing arrangement, having recently joined the Rapid Re-Housing Program operated by Family Service League, which provides financial and housing assistance enabling access to private rental units.

Along with the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, which had referred him to the program, Toney’s transition was also facilitated by the Council of Thought and Action, Heartsong and the Angels of Long Island organizations, among others.

Debbie Loesch, founder of the Patchogue-based nonprofit, Angels of Long Island, was instrumental in assisting Toney during his transition from homelessness, offering him per diem employment and watching out for him as he slowly got back on his feet.

“Life dealt him a couple of curveballs, but he has overcome them,” she said. “I’m very proud at how he’s turned his life around.”

Housed, he spends much of his time reading and in study. With stability, he now channels his energies into various civic aims to lift others out of homelessness.

Since entering stable living conditions, Toney described his day-to-day existence as “night and day.” “Stability just makes me a different person, a more desirable person,” he said. “I’m a lot happier.”

Despite the recent turn in Toney’s story, homelessness remains a painful reality for many other Long Islanders. For many, escape from the scourge of homelessness has become an even more significant challenge.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to get out of homelessness for a number of reasons,” Mike Giuffrida, executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, said in an interview. “The housing market has become more expensive than ever, and there’s less availability of rental units.”

Further exacerbating the lack of housing, Giuffrida added that a greater proportion of Long Island’s homeless population is turning away from the shelter system.

“More people are experiencing homelessness on the street as opposed to temporarily entering shelter situations as a result of the current shelter structures not aligning with the needs and preferences of people experiencing housing instability,” he said.

As inflation and prices continue to mount, compounded by a lack of affordable housing, the region’s homeless face even more challenges.

Possible reforms

To deal with the growing problems tied to homelessness, Giuffrida recommended policymakers consider transformational reforms to the existing shelter system.

“If the current shelter structures are not reimagined, we should expect to see more people living on the street as opposed to in shelter,” he said.

‘It’s very often that people who are most directly impacted by homelessness have the best ideas about how to solve homelessness.’

— Mike Giuffrida

Some manageable steps toward avoiding a spike in homelessness, Giuffrida suggested, could be eliminating burdensome shelter payment standards, reforming congregate shelter arrangements and offering non-U.S. citizens year-round access.

Giuffrida also recommended reimagining the mass transit network on Long Island, describing the existing infrastructure as “inadequate.”

“Transportation is a major barrier for people at risk of homelessness, experiencing homelessness or recently housed,” the executive director said.

Along with matters of policy, Giuffrida maintained that public awareness of homelessness offers a necessary first step toward alleviating the conditions of Long Island’s homelessness while moving them off the streets.

“People who have never experienced homelessness have the most to learn about homelessness,” he said. “It’s very often that people who are most directly impacted by homelessness have the best ideas about how to solve homelessness and are more aware of people’s needs.”

Toney’s triumph

Since Loesch first met Toney, she has observed in him a tendency to give back to others. She also noted his desire to stay informed on policy trends, attend legislative meetings and speak up for those similarly afflicted by homelessness.

“He’s always reached out to help somebody else,” she said. “He’s always willing to help somebody.”

‘We’re trying to save people from drowning, but we’re not going down the river to find out why they’re falling in.’

— Debbie Loesch

Loesch added that others could learn from Toney’s example, particularly his perseverance. She noted that he distinguished himself in seeking knowledge and information to facilitate his upward trajectory.

“He did his own research about how to obtain housing and what was available to him, and then he stayed on it,” she said.

The nonprofit founder reminded policymakers and community members to remember to humanize the homelessness problem, approaching this through a human and problem-solving angle. 

“We’re trying to save people from drowning, but we’re not going down the river to find out why they’re falling in,” she said. “We help people all over the world, but we don’t help our own people. There’s no reason that so many people should be homeless.”

Giuffrida emphasized that Toney is just one of countless other Long Islanders and Americans experiencing a similar lot. For communities and societies to begin to address the problem effectively, he maintained that all of those afflicted by homelessness must have a voice.

“We need to hear from all of the Devons,” he said.

Toney said the next stage in his journey is to acquire reliable transportation. He remains open to finding employment, saying that his experiences may uniquely qualify him for the nonprofit sector or related philanthropic enterprises.

“I know what it’s like not to have clothes, to be homeless and to go without food,” he said. “Helping individuals obtain food, clothing, housing and information … I would love that.”

Latoya Bazmore and Devon Toney, co-founders of All Included ’N’ Treated (A.I.N.T.), near Ross Memorial Park in Brentwood. Photo by Raymond Janis

After serving out a 17-year state prison sentence, Devon Toney returned to society unprepared for the challenges ahead.

Toney described parole as just another pressurized situation in a string of high-pressure environments that he has experienced since childhood. Parole, he said, only aggravated his post-traumatic stress disorder, stymying any opportunities for upward growth. 

He soon entered the shelter system in Suffolk County, traveling between homeless shelters and health care facilities, his most recent stay at The Linkage Center in Huntington. Eventually, feeling suffocated in the shelters and unable to sleep among strangers, he left that system for a life on the streets. By night, he slept in train stations, bus stations, dugouts and public parks. By day, he stole, often reselling juices and water just to get by. 

Without adequate resources and a lack of attention, Toney said those experiencing homelessness “have to steal,” that life on the streets “causes clean people — healthy people — to become addicts because that’s all they’re around.”

Toney remains homeless to the present day, currently residing near Ross Memorial Park in Brentwood. His story is one of countless examples of how easily one can become homeless after giving up on shelter, falling through the cracks with few opportunities to rise above these dire circumstances.

‘It’s probably one of the most difficult and complex moral and legal issues that I deal with.’

— Jonathan Kornreich

A startling trend

Mike Giuffrida, associate director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit that works throughout Long Island to determine better strategies and policies to address homelessness, said he has noticed a recent trend of others fleeing from shelters.

“Although emergency shelter is available to the majority of people who present as having nowhere else to go, we are seeing an increased rate of individuals who are presenting as unsheltered and are living on the street,” he said.

Motivating this shelter shock, Giuffrida sees two principal factors: “The greatest commonality of people that experience homelessness is … significant trauma, likely throughout the majority — if not all — of their lives,” he said. The second factor is the structure of the shelter system, which is constrained by strict guidelines from New York State and “can be retraumatizing for people or the shelter settings do not meet their needs.”

An aversion to communal living is commonplace among those requesting emergency shelter. In addition, occupants of these shelters are often asked to give up considerable portions of their income for shelter payments. “They pay, in some cases, almost all of their income in order to stay in that undesirable location,” Giuffrida said. 

Clusters of homeless encampments can be found in areas throughout Suffolk County. Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) says there are likely dozens of individuals experiencing homelessness in his council district alone, concentrated primarily in Port Jefferson Station. 

Kornreich complained about how he is limited in his capacity to help, saying he wishes that he could do more. “It’s probably one of the most difficult and complex moral and legal issues that I deal with,” he said. “The Town of Brookhaven doesn’t have any functions with respect to social services or enforcement, but because this is an area of concern to me, I try to identify people who might be in need of services and try to either talk to people myself or put them in touch with services.” 

Those services are provided through the Suffolk County Department of Social Services. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson affiliated with DSS outlined the array of options that are available through the department.

“The Suffolk County Department of Social Services offers temporary housing assistance, in shelter settings, to eligible individuals and families experiencing homelessness,” the spokesperson said. “We contract with nonprofit agencies that provide case management services to each client based on their individual needs, with a focus on housing support. Services may include referrals to community agencies, mental health programs, as well as medical services. These services, with the support and encouragement of shelter staff, work in concert to transition those experiencing homelessness to appropriate permanent housing resources.”

In an interview, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide economic challenges have only exacerbated the conditions of homelessness throughout the county. Despite external barriers, he holds that there is room for improvement.

“More could always be done, of course,” he said. “We are — as I’ve said many times before — coming out of COVID and grappling with impacts and effects that we’re going to be dealing with for years to come and that we don’t fully understand yet.” He added, “The Department of Social Services has, throughout COVID, and as we’ve started to move out of that now, worked very hard to fulfill its mission and will continue to do that.”

‘The frustrating part is that we are limited… We are limited in forcing a person to get medical treatment.’

— Sarah Anker

Accepting services: A two-way street

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) detailed the decades-long history of homelessness in Coram. She argues that it is closely tied to other pressing matters facing county government: public safety, access to health care, the opioid epidemic and inadequate compensation for social workers. 

The county legislator also blamed stringent state guidelines that handicap DSS’s outreach efforts. “The frustrating part is that we are limited,” Anker said. “We are limited in forcing a person to get medical treatment.”

Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), the majority leader of the county Legislature, voiced similar frustrations. He said he is concerned by the growing number of people that reject services from DSS.

“Even though you offer them help, you offer them shelter, and you offer them medical [assistance], they often turn it down,” he said. “They’d rather be out in the cold, alone, in the dark — whatever it is — than seek help. And that’s concerning.”

Emily Murphy, a licensed social worker who wrote a thesis paper investigating homelessness in Port Jefferson Station, said another significant problem is the lack of assistance for undocumented immigrants, whose immigration status bars them from applying for services.

“It’s not a DSS decision, but it comes from higher up, that if you don’t have documentation you can’t receive SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits or shelter,” Murphy said.

This changes during the colder months, according to Murphy, as shelters open their doors to all. Murphy also observed how a lack of political mobilization hampers the homeless community from receiving adequate government representation.

“That was the main thing,” Murphy said, referring to the homeless population. “It was a voice that was so often unheard and unlistened to.”

The gradual downward slope

Joel Blau, professor emeritus of the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, has followed trends in homelessness for decades. He attributes rising homelessness in the United States since the 1970s to the stagnation of wages across that time frame coupled with the rising cost of housing.

“The notion of somebody with a high school education maintaining a decent standard of living is becoming ever more elusive,” he said. “Housing prices, particularly in cities, have escalated a lot, so unless you have two professionals in the family or one person who makes a lot of money, it’s increasingly difficult to get decent housing.” 

Today, a growing number of people are just one step away from losing their homes. “Whether it be an accident or an illness or the loss of a job, all of a sudden they’re plummeting downward and onto the street,” he said.

Evaluating long-term projections of homelessness, Blau said there have been “periods where it plateaus and periods where it gets worse.” On the whole, he said, “the general trend is downward.”

Blau believes the way to remedy the issue is to change the ways in which society is organized. “It would require social housing, decommodifying it so that housing is a right, not something sold for profit,” he said. “And that’s probably, under the present political circumstances, a bridge too far.” In other words, problems associated with homelessness in this country have grown for many years and are likely to continue.

‘We need to let them know that we love and we care about them.’ — Devon Toney

Resurrection: A reason to hope

Toney has partnered with Latoya Bazmore, also of Brentwood, to create A.I.N.T. (All Included ’N’ Treated), a grassroots organization to combat homelessness in the community. 

Toney said his primary goal is to access adequate housing. After that, he intends to galvanize his peers in the community, serving as a beacon for those who are also going through the struggle of homelessness. As someone who has experienced homelessness firsthand and who can relate to the plight, Toney believes he is uniquely situated to be an agent of change and a force of good.

“I need to be the one that interacts with these gang members, these addicts … they need somebody to articulate things to them,” he said. “We need to comfort them. We need to let them know that we love and we care about them.”

To learn more about the A.I.N.T. project, please visit the AIN’T (all included N Treated) Facebook page or visit the group on Instagram: @all.included.and.treated.

Dean Jones, a resident of the Concern for Independent Living facility in Amityville which is constructing a new project in Port Jeff Station, speaks during a press conference on affordable housing in Suffolk County Oct. 2 flanked on the left by Richard Koubek, chair of the Welfare to Work Commission, and on the right by Legislator DuWayne Gregory. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s already difficult for both the young and old to find affordable housing in Suffolk County, but according to a recent report, the lack of low-cost homes and apartments is forcing some people to live without roofs over their heads entirely.

The Suffolk County Legislature’s Welfare to Work Commission, which advises the legislature on issues related to poverty in the county, released a report Oct. 2 that detailed the holes in affordable housing and government programs. Many of those homeless in Suffolk have some sort of job or income, according to the report.

“There has been some progress on public acceptance for affordable housing especially for working people, and especially for young people and senior citizens,” said Richard Koubek, the chair of the commission. “There still remains obstacles for creating affordable housing for two groups of residents: one is working poor families … the other are people who have mental illness which often leads to homelessness.”

The commission spent two-and-a-half years studying the issue of affordable housing and other related problems, including the county’s capacity to aid the homeless and those suffering from mental health issues. The final report showed high home and rent costs, along with government programs unable to handle the current numbers of people suffering from mental health issues, among its conclusions.

“There still remains obstacles for creating affordable housing for two groups of residents: one is working poor families … the other are people who have mental illness which often leads to homelessness.”

— Richard Koubek

Need for more affordable and supportive housing

As of January 2018, the advocacy group Long Island Coalition for the Homeless reported there were 3,868 homeless individuals in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Not all homeless are considered chronically homeless, or individuals who have a disability and have been homeless for more than 12 months, or have had at least four stints without a home in the last three years. About 500 families are homeless, or 2,500 individuals, in Suffolk County, of which half have a source of income but are still unable to afford housing or rent costs, according to the report. The report said the county spends more than $19 million annually feeding and supporting this population.

The report noted the 2017 Suffolk County area yearly median income is $110,800, while the median price of a home in 2017 was $376,000, according to census data. If an individual or family spent 30 percent of income on housing costs, the national and suggested average, they would have to earn $125,000 a year to afford the median home price.

If a family wanted to rent, only 18 percent of available housing is rental, compared to the national average of 37 percent. Market rate for monthly apartment rentals in Suffolk was $1,589 in 2017, according to census data, meaning families in that market would have to earn $57,204 — 52 percent of the area median income — a year if they spent 30 percent of their income on the apartment costs. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) said Suffolk was ranked 57th out of 62 New York counties in rental affordability.

Greta Guarton, the executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, said among government entities there is more of an emphasis on removing people from poverty rather than aiding people in poverty.

“The thinking used to be 20 percent of those who are homeless use 80 percent of emergency services,” Guarton said. “A fresh look at homelessness shows 80 percent of homeless families do not have disabilities. … In places like Long Island these people are homeless because they cannot find an affordable rental unit in this region’s tight, extremely expensive housing market.”

The LICH director added the most effective approach to combating homelessness is the Housing First Model, which tries to provide stability in a person’s life through housing, in addition to treatment and supportive services. With housing secured, those suffering from chronic homelessness can focus on stabilizing other parts of their lives, the report said.

“In places like Long Island these people are homeless because they cannot find an affordable rental unit in this region’s tight, extremely expensive housing market.”

— Greta Guarton

It is especially difficult for those suffering from mental illness to find affordable housing. Koubek said the emphasis has been moving away from asylums since the 1960s and toward community care facilities, but those smaller-scale places have not been financially supported, and there simply aren’t enough of them. The Suffolk County Department of Health Division of Community Mental Hygiene Services’ Single Point of Access program, which places people with mental illness into supportive housing, had a wait list 887 people long as of late 2017, according to the report. Those who wish to be placed on the list must attain a physician’s diagnosis, which the report calls difficult if the person is suffering alone or is already homeless.

People with undiagnosed mental illness also create a vacuum of funds — utilizing a huge chunk of the county’s money allocated for homeless programs. The report noted as much as $8 million of the $10 million in grants for homeless programs awarded to Long Island’s federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funded Continuum of Care program went to serving those with undiagnosed mental issues.

The study also pointed to incidents where people suffering from mental health issues were discharged from hospitals before they could receive the proper care. This puts more of an emphasis on requiring local government to funnel these people into supportive housing, which is difficult if they are released onto the street or remain undiagnosed.

The commission named a number of countywide solutions to address these issues, including increasing funding for the SPA program and improving the number of placements, prioritizing homeless families on the Public Housing Authority waiting lists, addressing substandard housing, improving Suffolk hospital discharge policies for the homeless and creating a coordinated county response to address low-income housing.

Current affordable housing projects trying to meet demand

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced May 10 $25.6 million had been awarded to four housing developments on Long Island to create 239 affordable homes.

On the state level, the report requested New York increases financial supports for capital construction and operating costs of supportive housing, and that it turns over unused state property to the county for the construction of more supportive housing.

Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and Legislator Tom Donnelly (D-Deer Park), who also chairs the legislature’s Education & Human Services Committee, each said Oct. 2 a need exists for public-private partnerships to create more affordable housing options.

“Homelessness is not imagined — it exists here in Suffolk County because of government policies which create instability,” Gregory said. “If people are spending a greater percent of their income on housing costs it leads to difficult choices. Will they buy food and clothing for their children or will they pay for their own home?”

“If people are spending a greater percent of their income on housing costs it leads to difficult choices. Will they buy food and clothing for their children or will they pay for their own home?”

— DuWayne Gregory

In 2007 the commission issued another report, “Affordable for Whom? Creating Housing for Low and Moderate-Income People in Suffolk County,” which noted a public opinion poll showing 70 percent of Long Islanders seeing the need for more affordable housing while two-thirds of the same population not wanting it near their own communities. Koubek said this attitude is changing somewhat, but getting projects like these approved remains a tall task.

Roger Weaving Jr., the president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, said the lack of affordable housing is a major reason why so many young people are leaving for other states. Many Long Islanders express concerns about having affordable two- to three-bedroom apartments in their communities, despite obvious demand for such dwellings.

“On the North Shore you can either have a single-family house or you can leave,” Weaving said. “While some of this is affected by state and county actions, a lot of action is at the town level, because they control zoning.”

Out of the money Cuomo helped set aside for affordable housing, $8.1 million was tabbed for construction of six two-story buildings on vacant land off Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, north of East Grove Street and south of Washington Avenue. The project is being constructed by Medford-based Concern for Independent Living Inc. The development came under fire from the community, during a Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting in May for various reasons, including concerns about overdevelopment and costs to educate children living in the new buildings.

Ralph Fasano, the executive director of Concern for Independent Living, said a section of the development is dedicated to housing veterans as well. He said the company plans to break ground on the project by December.

“It’s going to look [like the company’s development in Amityville] – it’s going to be quiet.” Fasano said.

PJSTCA president, Sal Pitti, declined to comment, and said the association would be having a civic member vote Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. on whether or not to publicly support the project.

Federal government deems Suffolk one of 29 places in nation to successfully address issue

Veterans salute a memorial in Northport Village on Memorial Day. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Long Island has joined the ranks of only a select few regions of the United States in bringing an “effective end” to veteran homelessness.

The community has a “systematic response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or if it can’t be prevented, it is a rare, brief and nonrecurring experience,” according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

North Shore legislators and organizations have worked together for the past several years to get an estimate on the number of homeless veterans living on Long Island and to make sure they are aware of all resources available to them.

In June 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama (D) signed the Opening Doors bill, which approved a comprehensive federal 10-year plan to end and prevent homelessness. The bill was the first of its kind in the United States.

“I thank God everyday there are people that have the compassion to fight for us.” — Todd Shaw

The strategy focuses on many different subgroups of the homeless population, and the first to be tackled was homeless veterans. The goal was to see an end to veteran homelessness by 2015 in accordance with the federal plan, and that is what Suffolk and Nassau counties have achieved.

In 2014, the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness was announced, which helped unite local leaders with organizations within their communities to help tackle the problem together. It also helped give specific parameters of what a community must do to achieve an “effective end” rating from the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Politicians worked with North Shore organizations including the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, the United Veterans Beacon House and more.

Mike Giuffrida, associate director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless said the coalition has been working with other groups to whittle down a master list with names of 748 homeless Long Island veterans in the hopes of reaching zero by the 2015 deadline set by Opening Doors.

Once they had the list, the coalition and other nonprofits started informing homeless veterans of the resources at their disposal. Giuffrida said members of the nonprofit and veterans themselves help with letting other vets know their options.

“We always have veterans doing veteran outreach, some of whom were also formerly homeless,” Giuffrida said in a phone interview.

Legislator Steve Stern announces Long Island’s achievement in supporting and working with homeless veterans. Photo from Stern's office
Legislator Steve Stern announces Long Island’s achievement in supporting and working with homeless veterans. Photo from Stern’s office

Todd Shaw is one of those volunteers. He served in the Army for 13 years, from 1975 through 1988, and found himself without a residence for about five months in 2014. At the time he was being treated as an inpatient at the Northport VA Medical Center, where he learned about Liberty Village, a 60-unit apartment complex in Amityville that provides housing exclusively for veterans.

“Timing is everything,” Shaw said in a phone interview of the circumstances that led to him applying and later being accepted into Liberty House. “It’s a very liberating thing to have a safe haven, a place to come home to at the end of the day.”

The 61-year-old veteran said he enjoys volunteering with the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless because he is able to give back.

“I come from a strong patriotic family,” he said. Both of his parents served in the armed forces. “I feel good by doing good. I thank God everyday there are people that have the compassion to fight for us.”

Frank Amalfitano, president and CEO of United Veterans Beacon House, another organization that specializes in homeless veteran outreach, said members of the nonprofit go into communities, visiting abandoned buildings, train stations, woods and fast-food restaurants to find veterans and offer them shelter and continuing care options.

Amalfitano said offering homeless veterans different options is crucial, because “you don’t want to set people up to fail. Some veterans come in and they have an income but emotional problems, or they don’t manage their money well.”

Because each case is different there are permanent, temporary and emergency housing options, according to Amalfitano. He also said some homeless veterans are not interested in any of the services, however they are continually revisited in case they change their minds.

“In some cases there may be a lack of trust, they feel safer out in the woods than they do in a shelter,” he said. “But at least now they know in case they get sick or change their minds.”

Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo
Suffolk County seeks to help house veterans. File photo

The president said United Veterans Beacon House can now accommodate any veteran within 24 hours — in some cases even quicker than that.

Giuffrida said by December 2015, the goal was to have housed 748 veterans. By the deadline 799 homeless veterans were given shelter and services. “Just last month we housed our 1,000th veteran,” he said.

He clarified that declaring an “effective end” does not mean there are zero homeless veterans on Long Island.

“This means there is a system in place [where] we can move any veteran that becomes homeless into a house in 90 days or less,” he said.

But he is excited with the progress that has been made. “We want the veterans in our communities to know we have a relentless dedication to them,” he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), a veteran himself, was one of many North Shore leaders that stepped up to the plate to help support local agencies.

“Our veterans served with dignity abroad, when they come home they should, in turn, be provided the dignity of adequate shelter for themselves and their families,” Bellone said in a statement.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has worked on legislation to help end veteran homelessness, including the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, which allows for zombie homes, or tax-defaulted properties in Suffolk County to be redistributed to veterans.

He said he’s proud of this achievement: “It sends the important message that we will always make sure our veterans have the support they need.”

Stern also commended the efforts of the various local organizations.

“This is an extraordinary accomplishment, one that reflects the dedication and tireless work of agencies … that have increased availability of housing for those who have sacrificed so much to serve our great nation and their families,” he said.

Only two states and 27 other communities in the country have reached this status.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker helped form a task force to increase quality of life concerns regarding the Coram Plaza. Photo from Sarah Anker

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), alongside Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), have formed the Coram Plaza Revitalization Task Force in response to quality of life concerns in Coram. The task force is made up of many stakeholders from the community, including elected officials from the state, county and town, local civic leaders, property managers, police and representatives from not-for-profit organizations.

Since Anker formed the task force last month, the community has seen improvements in safety and quality of life around the plaza. An increase in police patrol of the area has resulted in several arrests, and as suggested by the task force, store owners within the shopping plaza have increased their private security.

“Since the creation of the Coram Plaza Revitalization Task Force, the community has noticed a substantial difference in the quality of the Coram Plaza.”

—Sarah Anker

Anker has also worked with police officers from the 6th Precinct and the staff of Lighthouse Mission, a Bellport based 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that exists to feed the hungry and help the homeless, to relocate its mobile food pantry to the Suffolk County Probation building on Middle Country Road.

“Since the creation of the Coram Plaza Revitalization Task Force, the community has noticed a substantial difference in the quality of the Coram Plaza,” Anker said. “Working with the property managers, Suffolk County Police, local elected officials and not-for-profit organizations has truly made a difference in the community. I look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders to improve the conditions of the plaza and to revitalize this important economic engine in Coram.”

In addition to increasing security around the plaza, Anker has also been working directly with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office and the New York State Department of Transportation to clean up a wooded parcel near the plaza.

Increasing visibility in the area may reduce the use of these woods as a camping area for displaced individuals. Suffolk County Department of Social Services, Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, Hope House and Service for the Underserved will continue to provide assistance to these individuals. For more information, contact Anker’s office at 631-854-1600.

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Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) and the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless are seeking the public’s help to provide more than 4,000 school supplies and backpacks to kids in need.

Drop off school supplies at Stern’s office at 1842 East Jericho Turnpike in Huntington, through August 10, anytime between Mondays and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Supplies sought include backpacks, crayons, pencils, binders, erasers, sharpeners, calculators, glue sticks, pens, colored pencils, highlighters, pocket folders, compasses, index cards, protractors, composition books and more.

For more information on how you can help, visit the coalition’s website here.