By: Steve Palmer, Marine Corps Veteran
New York City has taken homelessness prevention for veterans seriously, and it shows. In 2015, New York became the largest city in the country to be certified by the federal government for effectively ending chronic veteran homelessness.
But support for the men and women who have served our country must not end with simply keeping them off the streets. Oftentimes, veterans have trouble adjusting to civilian life, struggling to find the stable housing, jobs, and health care they need to truly thrive. I would know, because I was one of those veterans.
I began serving in the Marine Corps at the age of 18. In six years of service, I achieved the rank of sergeant and received the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. But, due to a chronic leg condition, I was honorably discharged.
As a civilian for the first time since high school, I was depressed and directionless, feeling like I had lost the only job where I fit in. I started drinking and using drugs, and ended up homeless. I spent time in and out of psychiatric wards and lost touch with family and friends.
Fortunately, the City funds and partners with nonprofits that help veterans like me. I was able to connect with one such organization, Project Renewal, through a counselor at a drop-in center. I moved into Project Renewal's Third Street Men's Shelter, which was different from other shelters I had been to because it offered much more than just a place to sleep. Under the same roof, Project Renewal provided me with medical and mental health care, as well as substance use treatment at an on-site outpatient clinic. For those who are able to work, they provide job training, too.
I soon learned about one of Project Renewal's permanent housing programs, called In Homes Now, which helps people live on their own in apartments throughout the city, with continued counselling and other support services. I was able to move into one of those apartments 17 years ago—and I have not looked back.
Today, I am drug-free and alcohol-free, living independently in an In Homes Now apartment in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I still talk to my psychiatrist every day, and I take comfort in the fact that expert help is always available, 24/7, if I need it. These services help me navigate life's challenges and stay on my feet. I'm now at a place where I can give back to people who struggled like I once did. I'm active with my church ministry, doing outreach to homeless people, helping them find housing assistance, a hot meal, or even a simple haircut.
I hope that my story helps New Yorkers better understand the challenges that veterans face. While ending chronic veteran homelessness was a great achievement, we must continue to call on our city to fund proven programs, like Project Renewal's, that address the complex needs of those of us who have sacrificed for our country.
There are still too many veterans struggling to get by. We need to make sure they can all access the kinds of services that saved my life.