The goal is zero: NJ towns, counties tackling veteran homelessness
BRICK — They fought for us, but who's fighting for them?
According to Mayor John Ducey, the country has turned its back on former military personnel who are now struggling in their time of need.
The latest Point-in-Time count from winter 2016 recorded 556 homeless veterans in the Garden State. Faced with a high cost of living and a still-recovering economy, 40 percent of New Jersey's homeless veterans have been unemployed for more than three years, according to the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System.
Ducey is among a long list of mayors and county executives that have signed on to a nationwide initiative known as the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.
"It's been taking a very long time because we were actually trying to find a funding source," Ducey told New Jersey 101.5. "We believe that there's some federal money out there."
The goal is a 40-unit veteran-only housing complex. Ducey noted the state will not permit funding for complexes made up completely of veterans.
In early August, Bergen County became the 28th place countrywide to achieve the goal of zero veteran homelessness. The county signed on to the challenge in 2014 and found housing for 125 veterans within 18 months.
A.J. Luna, director of Veterans Services for the county, said the key is getting every stakeholder on the same page. Meetings are held every couple months to keep the "well-oiled machine" on track.
"The secret is — which is really no secret — the community just talked to each other," Luna said. "Everybody knew what they needed to do and they would chip in to attack this problem aggressively."
Between July 2015 and June 2016, the VA was able to provide permanent housing to 1,838 homeless veterans in New Jersey.
"We provide a full range of services including a mobile outreach, residential treatment, vocational rehabilitation, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing," a VA spokesperson said.