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New bills would tackle veteran homelessness

Lafazan introduces Dignity for Heroes Package

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County officials and veterans alike appeared before the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola on April 4 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 work together to 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, Lafazan said, “Some landlords have brazenly rejected veterans altogether,” perpetuating the problem of veteran homelessness around the nation. Under the new legislation, landlords who discriminate against veterans would be held legally accountable.

With the second bill, Lafazan seeks to create a Nassau Commission on Ending Veteran Homelessness, which would comprise 12 members from a variety of backgrounds 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,” which would comprise a number of 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 county’s uniform is sleeping under a train overpass or in a remote wooded area is unacceptable,” Curran added, announcing her support for the bills. She also said she was pleased with the bipartisan support for Lafazan’s efforts, which was evidenced by the presence of Legislators Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, and Bill Gaylor, a Republican from Lynbrook and an Army veteran.

DeRiggi-Whitton said that undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder plays a key role in perpetuating veteran homelessness, which she feels is now getting the attention it deserves. “Nassau County is a very caring county, and we want to make sure that every need is addressed,” she said. “And in my opinion, having a veteran [in a] home that you are renting would be an honor.”

Alex Gallego, the finance officer of AMVETS North Shore Memorial Post 21 in Oyster Bay, praised Lafazan for his efforts in creating the bills. “When you called me and told me about these two pieces of legislation,” Gallego told Lafazan, “you had me, and I want to thank you.”

“I hold [veterans] in the highest regard, and anything that I can do, anything that makes their lives better, anything that is being proposed to . . . thank them and honor them, I’m for,” Gallego, who served as a civilian soldier in the New York State Defense Force, said after the ceremony.

Tony Jimenez, a Vietnam veteran and the director of Glen Cove’s Veterans Affairs, said that legislation such as this has been needed for a long time. He said that he had seen many homeless veterans in Glen Cove, with the number constantly fluctuating.

“Veterans, they put their lives on the line,” Jimenez said, “and I find that a lot of them, when they come back home, they’re discriminated against.”

“This is what we need,” said Richard DeJesu, commander of the Oyster Bay AMVETS and a Navy veteran. “We need people to speak out for us. We’re not going to speak out for ourselves — we need legislators to help us out.”

“We’re our own worst enemy, because we don’t get recognition for any of the things that we do,” DeJesu added, saying that veterans often do not advocate for their own needs.

“To see anybody who’s homeless, it breaks your heart,” Lafazan said in explaining why he is so passionate about the legislation. “But somebody who serves the nation, somebody who puts on the uniform, deserves not only our admiration, but deserves housing.”

Both bills were passed by the Veterans and Senior Affairs committees on April 8, and they will now move on to the full Legislature on April 22. If passed, they would be sent to Curran for her signature.