The military teaches us to retrieve our wounded and bring them home but imagine coming back and not finding a home. One out of every three homeless men sleeping in a doorway, alley or box has put on a uniform and served this country. Having served in the army,I?ve witnessed first hand the needs of our many returning veterans and their families.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that, right now in New Jersey, 8,300of our veterans are homeless on our streets. And approximately twice that many experience homelessness over the course of a year. It?s alarming; and, it?s wrong.
I applaud the Governor for including $2.3 million in his 2013 budget for Veterans Haven North, a transitional housing program from homeless veterans that will take over the facilities currently used by Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital. And federal funds will help the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs provide housing, health services, and social and vocational rehabilitation to approximately 50 more homeless veterans. Eventually, capacity will be expanded to 100 beds.
It will be modeled after an existing successful state run facility for homeless veterans right here in South Jersey known as Veterans Haven. Since it opened in Winslow Township in1995, Veterans Haven has helped nearly a thousand homeless vets get back on their feet. And the recidivism rate is low. Three out of every four veterans who completed the program remain off the streets for good and return to purposeful lives.
Many homeless veterans have not worked regularly for many years. For most, the opportunity to regain both housing and their independence depends upon full-time employment.At both facilities, vocational counselors are on hand to help them prepare to look for work. After finishing vocational testing, they will complete a program with a vocational counselor which will best suit them based on experience, education and available funds for school. And, all are required to find and maintain full-time employment within six months of enrollment.
Residents are also required to attend a variety of self-improvement classes. These classes cover the gamut of life and work skills including anger management, career management,resume writing, basic computer training, health issues, money management and health and hygiene.
With the end of the war in Iraq and the involvement in Afghanistan winding down, we can expect to see about 100,000 veterans return home. Many will need help and support from safety net programs or job training to transition to civilian life.
We must honor the courageous men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect and defend our country. That?s why I am supporting this critical funding and am committed to implementing policies that ensure continued respect for those who have sacrificed for our great nation.
?Never leave a man behind.? It?s a motto we lived by on the battlefield and one I will continue to follow on the streets, in the shelters and at the Statehouse.
Note: Assemblyman Chris A. Brown was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 2011, where he represents the 2nd Legislative District. He was awarded the Bronze Star while serving in the Army?s 82nd Airborne Division for spearheading the ground offensive into Iraq during the Persian Gulf War and was called up to serve a second time in 2009.