Restoring Stability for New York City’s Unhoused Veterans
October 30, 2023
Bob Woodruff Foundation
The challenges linked to homelessness – maintaining basic needs beyond shelter, finding or sustaining employment, and accessing physical and mental health care – have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation in recent years.
New York City is one of the largest, most complex urban environments in the world. Many New York veterans are classified as “very low income” by federal guidelines and experiencing or at risk for homelessness. Most are unable to access government-funded programs such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families and the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program, and still require these essential services. Recognizing this service gap is Services for the UnderServed (S:US). They are acting with the support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation to ensure that no veteran falls through the system’s cracks.
Fostering Safety and Stability for Unhoused Vets
At S:US, they believe home is more than a shelter; it represents stability, safety, community, and a sense of belonging. With over 1,800 staff members and three different veteran services, S:US works with communities and individuals across the city and Long Island to ensure that every New Yorker has the chance to find a home. Their reach extends far and wide, thanks to the support of local, state, and federal government entities, foundations, corporations, and individual donors. Every challenge is within their scope, as they strive to deliver the same quality of services to one individual or thousands.
What sets apart S:US’ veteran support system is the statistics that underscore the urgency of their work. Over 85 percent of the veterans they serve are experiencing homelessness, with 60 percent living with more than one serious health condition such as chronic mental illness, substance use disorder, and other physical conditions. Additionally, 30 percent are justice-involved.
We spoke with Adam Wawrynek, associate vice president & senior regional director of S:US. Wawrynek’s experience in the field highlights the dedication and commitment that drives the organization.
Wawrynek and his team know asking for help is not always easy, but access to more resources makes all the difference. Anyone who comes to S:US receives information and resources that can improve their situation. Even if someone doesn’t qualify for a particular program that day, it doesn’t mean S:US can’t help with something more immediate.
As Wawrynek explains, veteran homelessness in New York City presents distinct challenges compared to other major cities across the United States. The median rent in New York City is $5,379, as of August 2023, while the average income of New York’s veterans is $35,000 a year— or half of one year’s rent.
Holistic Approach to Immediate & Long-term Services
The high cost of living and population density is often combined with an individual’s health issues or legal challenges, S:US uses a multifaceted approach to addresses homelessness. The organization combines housing support, employment assistance, mental health services and collaboration with data experts.
Their Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program offers tailored participant-focused services, including outreach, case management, and core supports, utilizing a “Housing First” approach, empowering very low-income veteran families to achieve housing stability through individualized Housing Stability Plans (HSPs) that address immediate crises, set realistic goals, and ensure long-term sustainability.
The S:US Employment Services assists more than 100 veterans annually, offering comprehensive job training, placement, and on-the-job support to veterans regardless of when or where they served, their level of job training or career of choice. Many of these veterans are referred through various sources such as colleges, VA Medical Centers, and community-based organizations.
Lastly, the Veterans Education to Employment Program (VEEP) facilitates access for eligible veterans to short-term training and certification courses in partnership with SUNY and CUNY campuses. The courses focus on maritime, security, and select trades, after which they can secure direct employment or advance in their careers through S:US Employment Services.
In New York City, where the challenges of homelessness intersect with the complexities of urban living, S:US will continue to expand access to their services to help all those who come to them for assistance. Because all NYC unhoused veterans deserve a place to call home.