Homelessness: The Bane of Our Society

As we walk our City streets it is almost impossible not to encounter a homeless person. We see them asleep at the entrances to stores, we see them asleep in alley ways, we see them asking for help on highways, in shopping areas and at our front door. We often just walk by not giving them a second thought. We fail in not asking ourselves who they are, their background, are they ill and why are they on our City streets and not in a safe, comfortable and nurturing setting? As winter approaches some will die of frost bite. As most of are thinking about Thanksgiving, Christmas trees, lighting the menorah, holiday dinners, latkes there are those who can only hope to eat at a soup kitchen at best.

There are two groups of homeless I would like to address at this point. Today we observe Veterans Day. It is not enough to remember our Veterans just on Veterans Day or on Memorial Day. Just as they served our nation every day while in our armed services we need to keep them in mind and be working to help their plight every day of the year. Although the number of homeless living in the street has dropped over the past two years the number of homeless overall has risen to just under 68,000 people in New York. A very high percentage of those who are homeless are veterans. Many are recent veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The City of New York has been responsive to the needs of our homeless veterans. Mayor de Blasio has instituted programs to help. They are not enough. More agencies have to be involved. At a meeting of the Community Advisory Council for the Pelham Grand it was good to hear that there has been outreach to house more veterans through ASCNYC. Presently two veterans reside at the Pelham Grand. Although there has been progress we have a long way to go. Commissioner Loree Sutton, (U.S Army (Ret.), Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs is working to assist the veterans. She knows first hand what it is to be in the armed services and the psychological and physical issues many veterans have when back home. She was the founder of the The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). DCoE is a United States Department of Defense (DoD) organization that provides guidance across DoD programs related to psychological health and traumatic brain injury issues. The organization’s official mission is to “improve the lives of our nation’s service members, families and veterans by advancing excellence in psychological health and traumatic brain injury prevention and care” It is great that we have Commissioner Sutton at the helm of the Mayor’s Office for Veterans’ Affairs. Joe Bello, Founder of MetroVets said “We need to realize that there is a lot of work to be done. The previous New York City administration played a shell game with numbers. Shelter designations were often changed. We can easily slide back.”

Commissioner Loree Sutton, Mayor's Office for Veterans' AffairsThe other group in great need of proper housing is LGBT youth. It has been estimated that nationally over 50% of homeless youth are gay, lesbian or transgender. Many in this group are from outside of New York. They are from areas in our nation where religious dogma trumps family. Many have been thrown out by families once they came out or when their families found out that they were LGBT. It was very encouraging to note last week the announcement from City Hall that “The True Colors Fund, which was co-founded by Cyndi Lauper, and is the leading national organization focused on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth homelessness, and Covenant House International, the largest network of shelters for homeless youth across North and Central America, announced today a groundbreaking partnership to ensure safe, inclusive, and affirming beds and services for the disproportionate number of homeless LGBT youth in need of shelter and supportive services across the country.” The National Coalition for the Homeless pointed out that in New York City:

40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT [Williams Institute, 2012] 43% of clients served by drop-in centers identified as LGBT
30% of street outreach clients identified as LGBT
30% of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBT

Those are staggering figures. This columnist had some doubts regarding Covenant House based on past issues. Hopefully those issues are now resolved and Covenant House will now serve a population in great need of a residence and services. As the National Coalition for the Homeless pointed out agencies and residences need to include training for shelter staff on how to be an ally to LGBT individuals and written policies to keep discrimination from occurring.”

We need to act and act quickly to assist these two groups and others with special issues. Veterans and LGBT homeless persons need safer access to housing options that will respect their personal identity and give them the emotional and physical support and recognize their special needs in an often hostile environment. They need to be provided with a safe environment. We must all be involved.

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