Madge Wilson’s phone is constantly ringing.
Starting about four years ago, a growing number of those calls to Wilson, NCC board member and outreach coordinator, sought help for military veterans who were about to become homeless.
Since then, New Community has grown in its commitment to house vets like Nathaniel Lawrence.
A Vietnam-era veteran, Lawrence, now 58, resides at New Community Associates, a senior and disabled adult complex at 180 South Orange Ave. in Newark.
Wilson has played a key role in assisting about 15 veterans on the brink of homeless find housing at New Community.
“Everyone comes to me. I don’t know where to start first,” Wilson said with a smile.
It was 2011 when Lawrence was being discharged from the Veterans Administration Hospital in East Orange and had no place to go. He had been temporarily staying at his brother’s house for two months and couldn’t stay any longer.
A nurse at the VA hospital told him about Wilson. Wilson jumped on the case and in a matter of days, Lawrence was set up with an apartment at New Community, a space of his own that Wilson ensured was properly furnished.
“I had no furniture. All I had was the TV,” Lawrence said during a recent visit with Wilson.
“I wanted to make sure you were okay,” Wilson said.
Wilson works with NCC’s Property Management to ensure that vets quickly find a place to live. So far, most veterans have been placed at two senior buildings in Newark, which offers camaraderie among fellow vets, if they desire to seek it out.
New Community is also continuing to push forward on its project called “A Better Life,” a planned supportive housing complex comprised of 21 efficiency apartments and three respite care units for the chronically homeless, including veterans.
As a sign of New Community’s long-term commitment to helping homeless veterans, A Better Life will feature a partnership with University Behavioral Health Care, which is part of Rutgers University, to provide comprehensive behavioral and health care services on site.
For Lawrence, NCC’s dedication to helping vets came at the perfect time, through Wilson’s help, which included finding donated living room and bedroom sets to furnish his apartment at Associates.
“Really, it worked out wonderful. She got everything that I needed,” Lawrence said. “Someone was listening, someone cared,” he added.
New Jersey has a veteran population of more than 350,000, according to the VA’s data from fiscal year 2015.
FAST FACTS ON VETERANS
51 percent of homeless vets have disabilities
50 percent have serious mental illness
70 percent have substance abuse problems
Source: National Coalition For Homeless Veterans