After some initial controversy, support appears to be growing for housing veterans in a vacant Pelham Bay building.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, chairman of the Assembly Veterans Affairs committee, is talking with veterans housing service providers and seeing what could work at the Pelham Grand, a former hospital at 1870 Pelham Parkway South.
The Veterans Administration in the Bronx is getting ready to do a “walk through” of the building, said local veterans advocate Pat Devine.
It was recently used for nine months as a temporary supportive housing facility for mentally ill individuals displaced from their Rockaway building by Hurricane Sandy.
“Our number one priority is to ensure that there is a good facility that is acceptable to our local community,” said Benedetto. “To that end we are trying to come up with possible uses for it, and I thought we could do something with veterans housing there. There are a number of groups out there that deal with veterans housing, and we are exploring those options.”
Among the organizations he is looking at are social-service provider Services for the Undeserved, which operated the first supportive housing facility at the location and also works with vets, and with Soldier On, which already operates facilities elsewhere in the country and could also do so in the Bronx, he said.
The concept is tentative at this point, but whatever would be offered to veterans should include a comprehensive (holistic) approach, he said.
“I would want this to be a project not only supplying housing for our veterans,” he added, “but also offer a full range of services for them on-site.”
Veterans have significant problems that are acknowledged by most people, he said. These include dealing with stress disorders, mental health issues, homelessness, joblessness, educational issues, retraining and adapting skills learned in the service for civilian employment, he said.
“If we could have counselors and professionals who are adept at dealing with these issues, that would be just great,” he said.
Stresses of combat
Despite these concerns, Pelham Bay Taxpayers treasurer Joe Oddo, who has meet with Benedetto and SUS on possible plans, said that both the community and the society have to deal with returning veterans, some of whom may have issues resulting from the stresses of combat.
“It is not an issue of what the community needs, it is an issue of what the society needs,” he said. “You have hundreds of thousands of veterans being released into all communities, and they are coming with issues.
“It may not be all of them and it may not even be the majority, but there are many people with issues. They are going to be here whether they are in a building, a project, or on the street. If there is going to be housing, there has got to be support.”
The operator must have a strong-track record in providing social services and housing to veterans, and need to be an established group, not a start-up, said Oddo.
He pointed out that the SUS’s temporary program at the site worked well because the on-site support staff quickly dealt with any issues that arose.
Devine said that the VA would have to be deeply involved in any facility through its Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, also known as HUD VASH, which funds housing and services for vets through the VA and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Devine added that preliminaries arrangements are being made for a VA “walk through” at the Pelham Bay facility, and that he believes the VA has the credibility and resources to make the project something the community can accept.