They’ve been down on their luck for years, some living house to house, some in the streets.
Now 76 vets will get the chance to start their road to stability. Kingsbridge Terrace, a veterans-only apartment building, officially opened Thursday, Nov. 8 in Kingsbridge Heights.
Standing mere blocks from the James J. Peters VA Medical Center, the modern four-story building offers affordable housing and supportive programs - including job training and counseling. Veterans also benefit from free Internet, a computer lab and a rooftop garden.
It’s a dream come true for Desert Storm veteran Tina Vasquez, a Bronx native forced to stay at a veterans-only homeless shelter in Queens before settling into her studio apartment at Kingsbridge Terrace.
“I feel grounded,” said Vasquez, one of four veterans who spoke during the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov.8.
Back in the 1990s, Vasquez was an Army reservist midway into applying for pre-med classes after graduating Fordham University with honors.
When Desert Storm raged in the Mideast, Vasquez answered the call of duty, putting her school interviews on hold. Working at an Army Hospital in South Carolina, Vasquez received real-world experience in the medical field. By the time she returned to civilian life her enrollment window had closed.
“I felt like my life was empty because my dream was gone,” said Vasquez.
But she got her second wind at Kingsbridge Terrace, where she’s now keeping busy writing, taking photographs, and thinking about enrolling for more college.
Kingsbridge Terrace is the second Bronx residence funded by the Jericho Project, a nonprofit offering veterans housing and special services like job training. Over $20 million in private and public funds helped bankroll the project, with half of those funds coming from the federal stimulus.
Last year, Jericho opened Fordham Village, a 56-unit complex.
Fordham Village has been a blessing for Larry Fowler, an Army sergeant in the Iraq War who enlisted twice. Hard times fell on Fowler, who wound up homeless after the war. He could never find the camaraderie he found at his Army base in Iraq, until he stepped foot into Fordham Village.
“It’s that sense of community that I enjoy at Fordham Village,” said Fowler, now an applied science major at Bronx Community College.
There are now 2,000 homeless veterans roaming throughout New York City. The transition back to civilian life can sometimes be tough on veterans, who find their military skills not always translating well to civilian life. Some turn to drugs and alcohol to combat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jericho prides itself on successfully reintegrating vets back into society.
“The idea is to normalize their lives as best as possible,” said Tori Lyon, Jericho’s executive director.
The drug relapse rate is 13% for those living in Jericho housing, compared to the national average of 40-60%. Jericho’s housing programs cost $13,000 per veteran, nearly half of what it would cost them to live in a shelter.
Congressman Jose Serrano and Councilman Joel Rivera attending the ribbon cutting for Kingsbridge Terrace at 2701 Kingsbridge Terrace.David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383
©2012 Community News Group