New York City officials say there are 2,000 homeless U.S. military veterans in the city, and some veterans say there might be twice that many.
Homeless in NY
Walter Hernandez, who served 24 years in the U.S. Army, is one of them.
“It’s really rough being homeless - day by day, trying to find a meal, trying to find a place to sleep, it’s really rough," he says. "And more and more people now being homeless, more veterans are [left] homeless now."
Hernandez eats his meals at New York City Rescue Mission, just one of several public and private organizations working together to help veterans on the street.
Funded primarily by public donations, the facility's 100 beds are filled every night, most by older, single men from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hernandez lived at the mission before finding other housing. Designed to offer help on a short-term basis, the mission provides residents with clothing, laundry and bathroom facilities in addition to serving meal.
The Jericho Project, a privately funded group, provides permanent housing for the homeless in New York.
Of Jericho's six housing residences, Iraq war veteran Larry Fowler has his own place in a building of 56 units for men and women, each with a kitchen, bed and sitting room, closet space and bathroom.
"There’s something about having your own space that’s important to everything else you want to do, whether it’s looking for a job, going to school, friends or family or whatever," says Fowler, a U.S. Army veteran who spent time in shelters.
Jericho Project Executive Director Tori Lyon sees a special need for military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Once they become homeless, there’s a cascade of other problems that can happen," she says. "Our goal is prevent another generation of homeless veterans."
New housing development
But homeless advocates say military veterans face unique, prolonged risks and that there is an urgent need for entire communities, not just public and private organizations, to take action.
On an empty lot on a quiet street in the Bronx, another effort is just underway. With funds from the federal and New York state governments, along with that of private banks, Bridge Gardens plans to provide 17 housing units for veterans.
"It is not acceptable to see those people who fought for our liberty, fought for our way of life, when they come back home, they have to fight again to have a place to live," says New York City Councilman Mathieu Eugene. "They have to fight again to have food on the table; they have to fight again to have access to medical care."