Military veterans deserve not only our utmost appreciation and respect, they deserve to have a roof over their head and a dignified place to call home. It sounds superfluous to say, doesn’t it?
I strongly believe there’s a need to advocate for veterans who have found themselves homeless after returning from service, because it appears that they have been all but forgotten by our society.
These are the men and women who selflessly served our country. Let us not forget that veterans from the Vietnam War era were drafted into the military. Decisions made by Congress reverberated in our neighborhoods and left indelible marks, for instance, when well over a dozen teens from Newark’s Central High were conscripted. These young men were not the family members of leaders seated in the corridors of power. They were shipped off to fight someone else’s war.
The reality of war is sobering. When I was a young priest at Queen of Angels parish in Newark, the Marines requested that I accompany them to the high-rise, public housing buildings when they had to deliver the news of a death to the family. I still find that scene ironic: a priest escorting members of the fearsome U.S. Marine Corps.
Meanwhile, for those fortunate enough to return, finding a “home” has remained stubbornly elusive. At New Community, we show what true commitment to veterans looks like.
When we hear of a veteran who needs housing from doctors at the VA facilities in East Orange or Lyons, caring people like Madge Wilson, an NCC board member who also serves as our outreach coordinator, immediately acts. The man or woman who is at risk of ending up on the streets becomes Madge’s No. 1 priority and she has worked with our Property Management to fast-track about a dozen vets for placement in a New Community apartment.
We are also diligently making progress on an important supportive housing complex called A Better Life, which will offer veterans and other chronically homeless individuals in Newark with a refuge. A Better Life will allow vets to live independently and also receive mental health and other support services where they reside.
Let me be clear, I am eagerly awaiting the groundbreaking of this complex because the urgency of the need. Let us reexamine our priorities when it comes to our veterans and align our actions with what we claim we value as a society.