NJ Veterans Group Rebuilds Sandy-Destroyed Housing as Homelessness Crisis Worsens in Pandemic
By Neil A. Carousso
NEW JERSEY (WCBS 880) — It’s been nearly a decade since Superstorm Sandy rocked the Tri-State, but a veterans organization is still trying to rebuild while the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the homelessness issue at the heart of its mission.
There are nearly 600 homeless veterans in New Jersey – a jump of 7.99 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report.
The American Legion Post 107 is hoping to reduce the number of homeless vets in Hudson County, estimated to be 70, by about a third next year when it anticipates phase II of its post-Sandy rebuild will be complete.
“Our objective is to take homeless veterans off the street,” said Post 107 Commander John Carey.
Phase I of rebuilding the Veterans Center of Hoboken took six veterans off the streets into fully-furnished apartments. Phase II will add 18 studios and six single-bedroom apartments to house 24 of our nation’s heroes. The organization hopes to break ground this summer for completion next year.
“Our apartments are furnished from everything from a toothbrush to a microwave oven,” said Carey who stressed this as the differentiating factor between the Veterans Center of Hoboken and other grassroots organizations that provide shelter for veterans – sometimes without even a mattress.
“These men, like myself, we served our country and for whatever reason they have a major problem right now, we need to service that problem,” said Carey who was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1965 and served two years in Thailand and Vietnam.
The Post Commander described his service as the “FedEx for Vietnam,” telling WCBS 880’s Neil A. Carousso, “We delivered everything from a bullet to a plane to Vietnam.”
Today, Carey is leading the non-profit effort to support his peers. It’s heartbreaking for him to walk by homeless vets on nearly every bench he passes along the Hudson River.
“The word homeless should never be used with the word veteran,” he emphasized.
The Veterans Center of Hoboken has provided meals, clothes and emotional support, virtually, during the pandemic.
“They’re out of the shelters because they can’t crowd in the shelters so they’re really all over the place,” Commander Carey explained. “We bring them food, clothing, we have a veterans closet where we bring them clothes.”
Carey told WCBS 880 he believes mental illness is at the root cause of the veterans homelessness issue and housing is a step for healing their wounds and providing dignity for those who bravely served the country.
“We will have an office there where we’re going to work with the VA. They’re going to have a counseling person there every day,” he said.
American Legion Post 107 has raised about $2 million from the community for the project.
They need roughly $3.75 million more to put Phase II over the finish line in the next 18 months. You can read more about the project and donate here.