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Op-Ed | New York City’s veterans need our support year-round, not just on Veterans Day

Close-up of psychotherapist holding hands with a soldier during counseling at her office.
Photo via Getty Images

Every Veterans Day, we honor the individuals of the United States armed forces who risked their lives to protect ours. Unfortunately, during the other 364 days, many of us do too little to support them, even though many veterans face extreme life challenges, including homelessness.

According to figures released last month by the Department of Homeless Services, New York City shelters currently have more residents than at any point in decades. Many veterans are among them. While much attention has been paid to migrants and others experiencing housing insecurity, our unhoused veterans are too often forgotten. Let’s commit to changing that. 

Like many New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, veterans often struggle with mental illnesses, like PTSD, and substance use, sometimes years after being discharged from military service. 

One such veteran is Johnathan, who returned to New York after serving in the Marines, including four long months in Somalia. He found work, started a family, graduated from college, and enrolled in law school before his experiences in the military took a toll. Mental health challenges and substance use eventually led to homelessness.

Johnathan found the support he needed in the Borden Avenue Residence in Long Island City, operated by the Institute of Community Living (ICL). Borden is one of only two New York City shelters exclusively for veterans. It has 30 staff members providing services to 300 residents, helping them gain independent living skills, deal with medical and mental health challenges, and secure employment and housing. So far this year, 100 residents of the Borden Avenue shelter have moved into permanent housing.

Some of those veterans wound up at ICL’s newly opened Nevins Street Apartments, a 129-unit residential building with 79 supportive apartments, 20 of which were set aside for veterans coming out of the shelter. Better than a basic apartment, a supportive unit means residents get the additional help they need in their recovery journey. Housing is the best outcome we can deliver for these Veterans we serve, and more supportive units set aside for our veterans will go a long way.

New York City has reduced veteran homelessness by nearly 90% since 2011. In December 2015, it became the largest city in the country to be certified by the federal government for ending chronic veteran homelessness. But with hundreds of veterans still in shelters and many more on the streets, we need to do better.

Johnathan is now a Veteran specialist in ICL’s Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) program, working full-time to help veterans like himself. He lives independently in an apartment and will soon earn an MBA in healthcare management. That’s what’s possible with the proper support, and every veteran deserves it.

This Veterans Day, as we honor those many men and women who fought for our nation, we must ensure they receive the support they need to rise out of housing insecurity and provide the comprehensive programs they deserve to address their challenges. Together, nonprofits, government partners, corporations, and philanthropists can get it done.

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