County officials and veterans appeared before the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola on April 3 as Legislator Josh Lafazan, an independent from Woodbury, introduced two new bills aimed at ending veteran homelessness in Nassau.
“I stand here in solidarity with veterans from across Nassau County,” Lafazan said, “in declaring a new day in our shared commitment to the men and women who have served this nation in uniform.”
The bills, which Lafazan has nicknamed “the Dignity for Our Heroes Package,” would ensure that roughly 5,000 homeless veterans in Nassau County would be able to find housing. The first bill would establish veterans as a protected class under the Nassau County Human Rights Law, legally protecting them from discrimination based on their veteran status.
According to Lafazan, veterans across the country use vouchers to pay for housing, which landlords sometimes reject. In other instances, he said, “some landlords have brazenly rejected veterans altogether,” perpetuating the problem of veteran homelessness. Under the new legislation, landlords who discriminate against veterans would be held legally accountable.
With the second bill, Lafazan seeks to create a commission on Ending Veteran Homelessness in Nassau County, which would comprise 12 members appointed by County Executive Laura Curran. One of the commission’s key goals, Lafazan explained, would be to address the lack of transitional housing for homeless veterans in the county. It would create a written report containing recommendations for the construction of a new transitional housing facility for veterans.
The commission would also research and design a “veterans transitional supportive housing curriculum,” with programs dedicated to helping veterans ease back into everyday life, such as vocational training, financial literacy aid and physical and mental health services.
“I believe that these two bills . . . will help Nassau County get closer to our goal of eradicating veteran homelessness,” Lafazan said, “and we will not stop until every veteran who served this nation in uniform has a roof over their head. They fought for us, and now it’s time we fought for them.”
“The idea that anyone who has worn this country’s uniform is sleeping under a train overpass or in a remote wooded area is unacceptable,” Curran added. She also said she was pleased with the bipartisan support for Lafazan’s efforts, which were supported by Legislators Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, and Bill Gaylor, a Republican from Lynbrook and an Army veteran.
Local veterans commended Lafazan’s efforts to protect their colleagues in arms. Sea Cliff resident Phil Como, post commander of James F. Brengel American Legion Post 456, referring to the proposed legislation, said he was “all for it.”
“[Lafazan] isn’t afraid to tackle things that could put him in harm’s way politically, and [lawmakers] should look at these things that seem intractable,” Como said. “Any time you do something positive for veterans, that’s probably a good thing.”
Carl Ring, a member of the Glenwood American Legion Post 336, said he was happy to see bills addressing veteran homelessness, an issue, he said, many people may be unaware of. He believed the bills would give veterans “what’s due to them.” “After serving some time in warzones,” Ring added, “they deserve special recognition.”
He was also impressed by the spirit of the second bill, saying that veterans should take advantage of any benefits offered to them. Referring to the transitional supportive housing curriculum, he said, “Many veterans come back mentally not adaptable to active civilian life. Having some of these programs available can certainly help them.”
“Somebody who serves the nation, somebody who puts on the uniform,” Lafazan said, “deserves not only our admiration, but deserves housing.”
Both bills passed the Veterans and Senior Affairs committees on Monday, and will move on to be approved by the full Legislature on April 22. If passed, they would then be sent to Curran for her signature.
Alyssa Seidman contributed to this story.