Despite the blustery cold, hundreds of veterans lined up outside of the Freeport Armory on Tuesday to receive food and clothing. This annual event, now in its 25th year, is held the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It is an outreach program that assists homeless and needy veterans and is sponsored by the Nassau County American Legion and the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency. “We average about 300 vets at this event,” said Frank Colon, past commander of the Nassau County American Legion and past president of United Veterans Organization. “We’re here to help get vets off the street and get them services.”
According to Colon, the Stand Down is an opportunity to reach out to veterans. Some of the services provided at the Stand Down include dental care, haircuts, showers, eye exams and flu shots. “They come for the hot meal,” Colon said, but while they are there “we can provide them with information about benefits and they can speak to someone who can help them with a whole range of issues.”
The Department of Social Services and Health and Human Services as well as the New York State Department of Labor, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Division of Veterans Affairs were on hand as well as non-profits including the Salvation Army and Red Cross.
Homelessness among veterans remains a persistent problem. According to a joint report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, approximately 49,933 veterans were found to be homeless nationwide.
In 2014, HUD reported there were 2,542 homeless veterans across New York State. Long Island’s homeless veterans make up 14.6 percent of this total.
Veterans are more likely than civilians to experience homelessness because they are at a higher risk of experiencing traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder, both of which have been found to be among the most substantial risk factors for homelessness, a 2015 study conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness said.
Additionally, the study found that most homeless veterans are males, ages 51 to 63 and have served in the Vietnam War.
“There were 3 million in country,” Colon said, referring to Vietnam veterans who saw active duty in Vietnam. “But there is currently less than 600,000 alive because of Agent Orange and other things. These vets have suffered. They need our attention.”
Last November, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer held a news conference to urge passage of the Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015, which would help address veteran homelessness by increasing the number of veterans who can afford permanent housing. That legislation, however, has stalled in the Senate’s Veterans Affair Committee.