Westchester County surpasses ambitious national goal, adds jobs component to the challenge. Curtis Ross, a Navy veteran, had been homeless for about three years, moving in and out of shelters and regrettably losing touch with his family. But now, thanks to the outreach of Westchester County’s Patriot Housing Initiative, he again has a place to call home – and a reason to be proud.
At right, Shawyn Patterson-Howard, Yonkers YMCA; Melissa Staats, Commissioner of Dept. of Community Mental Health; Efrem Burgess, veteran; Curtis Ross, veteran; County Executive Robert P. Astorino; Karl Bertrand, co-chair of Patriot Housing initiative; Kevin McGuire, Commissioner of Dept. of Social Services; Jeff Kane, landlord; Felicia Ramos, Executive Director of CVR New York; Vito Pinto, Director of Veteran Services.
“I feel happy and fulfilled with a sense of accomplishment,” Ross said of his new one-bedroom Verplanck apartment. “It has helped bring me and my family together again. It makes me happy to be in the position to invite over friends, family and grandkids to a place of my own that I am proud of.”
Thankfully, there are dozens of other success stories just like this playing out across Westchester.
Joined by veterans and more than two dozen community partners, County Executive Robert P. Astorino today announced that Westchester County had surpassed an ambitious goal of housing 75 homeless veterans in 100 days as part of the national “100,000 Homes” initiative. Westchester housed 85 veterans between August and November.
Building on this momentum, Astorino also announced that Westchester has launched a new “100 Day Challenge.” This time, the goal is to house 75 homeless veterans while also finding employment for 45 veterans by March 31.
“It’s an ambitious goal, but certainly a worthy one,” Astorino said during a special recognition ceremony in the Michaelian Office Building in White Plains. “No one should ever go homeless, especially our veterans. Working hand-in-hand with our community partners, we are striving to make sure no veteran will be without a roof over his or her head. Because employment is an essential component of reducing homelessness, we are combining our efforts to put veterans into jobs as well as homes.”
Spearheaded in partnership with the Westchester County Continuum of Care Partnership for the Homeless, the Patriot Housing Initiative has brought together a coalition of community partners throughout Westchester. In all, nearly 60 people representing various organizations have teamed up with the county departments of Social Services, Community Mental Health and Veterans Services to tackle the issue of veteran homelessness in a comprehensive and systematic way.
“In my 30 years of homeless advocacy, I’ve never seen Westchester be so open to dramatic, rational change,” said Karl Bertrand, co-chair of the Westchester County Continuum of Care Partnership for the Homeless and the Patriot Housing Initiative. “Now when people ask me how my day was at work, my answer is usually, ‘Thrilling!’ Our team is inspired by our success, but motivated to do even more.”
In expanding the 100 Day Challenge, Westchester is calling on more landlords and employers to open their doors to veterans. The support of municipal officials is also crucial.
“Partnership is the only way this initiative succeeds,” said Vito Pinto, director of Westchester County Veterans Services. “During our first 100 Day Challenge, leaders in Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains and New Rochelle played an important role. Now we’d like to build our relationships in Northern Westchester, as well as connect with the business community through our One-Stop Employment Center.”
Jeff Kane, who owns the Verplanck apartment rented by Ross, the Navy veteran, said it gives him great satisfaction to know he is helping someone in need.
“I strongly believe in giving people who served our country an opportunity to live comfortably and start to help them readjust to life,” Kane said. “I strongly encourage new landlords to consider the HUD-VASH program. Go with your gut instinct, then give it a chance. I’ve had tremendous success and satisfaction in knowing my tenants really appreciate a clean place to live.”
To learn more about the Patriot Housing Initiative, please visit www.Facebook.com/PatriotHousing, www.Twitter.com/PatriotHousingW or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact Vito Pinto, of Veterans Services, at email@example.com or (914) 995-2148.