Even the Republicans vying for Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s job this November support his plan to get over 400 homeless veterans in Connecticut off the streets by 2015.
The $3 million plan, announced Feb. 11, will conduct a review of existing housing run by the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Rocky Hill, Conn., in order to assess whether the housing meets the needs of the state’s homeless veteran population. The proposal would also provide grants for employment specialists to help veterans find jobs and assist in paying for more permanent homes.
The governor’s plan was developed with the CT Heroes Project, a non-profit organization that shares the goal of ending veteran homelessness. Associate Director Gabriel Zucker ’12 said Connecticut is among the first states in the country to launch a program complementing a federal initiative to combat veteran homelessness that has been in place since 2009.
Though the number of homeless veterans nationwide has declined by 17.2 percent since then, the economy’s continuing weakness has impeded progress in finding jobs for veterans to help them get on their feet.
“We’re all very optimistic that this initiative will be successful, but we’ll see,” Zucker said. “We’re still going to have a high unemployment rate and the people who have had tough pasts are going to have trouble getting jobs.”
A spokesman for the governor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Joe Davis, national spokesman for the non-profit Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, said veterans face unique challenges in the job market. Employers are sometimes reluctant to hire people with mental or physical handicaps sustained during war.
He said many employers erroneously assume veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and will be poor employees. Others don’t want to hire reservists who might be called away at any time.
Terry Brennan, director of the Office for Veterans’ Workforce Development at the Connecticut Department of Labor, said his office intends to use $600 thousand in funding from Malloy’s plan to hire five new specialists in veteran employment. The specialists will work with shelters and veterans’ service centers across the state.
“They’ll make sure that the veterans aren’t falling through the cracks basically,” Brennan said.
State Senator Len Fasano, who serves on the legislature’s Veterans’ Affairs committee, said that while he is pleased the governor is taking steps to address homelessness, he is concerned the plan does not provide for sufficient supportive housing. Supportive housing includes programming and resources to help veterans address challenges such as drug abuse or mental illness.
Zucker said that because the federal program provides funding for supportive housing, the governor’s plan is focused on other initiatives.
“Our plan does rely pretty heavily on being able to help people get jobs and help them become independent,” Zucker said.
Some of the funds will be allocated for a review of the facilities at Rocky Hill, which has 336 beds for veterans, said Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz. She added that 230 of those beds are currently occupied. The facility has additional housing that has been under-utilized because it was reserved for single veterans who disliked the restrictions imposed on occupants.
“You could not have alcohol because it’s state property,” Schwartz said. “And also you can’t have overnight guests that aren’t family.”
Schwartz said the department is now making the housing available to veteran families.
Republican gubernatorial candidates Tom Foley and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney ’86 expressed support for the governor’s plan. But McKinney said he hoped the state would also take action to address homelessness among a range of groups, not just veterans.
“We should all be ashamed if people who put on the uniform and fought for our country don’t have a place to call home,” McKinney said. “I think we should be equally ashamed if a mother and her children are living on a park bench.”
There are 4,500 homeless people living in Connecticut, approximately 11 percent of whom are veterans.