Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1175 Sun, 17 Dec 2017 10:19:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Set to Hit Functional Zero Veteran Homelessness, Though Challenges Remain http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5986:city-set-to-hit-functional-zero-veteran-homelessness-though-challenges-remain http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5986:city-set-to-hit-functional-zero-veteran-homelessness-though-challenges-remain bdb veteran parade

Mayor de Blasio at the Veterans Day parade (photo via the mayor's office)


City officials said Thursday that New York is on course to house all of its homeless veterans by the end of this year. At a City Council hearing held by the general welfare and veterans committees, de Blasio administration representatives said they would meet a previous promise to find housing for all military veterans without.

"When Mayor de Blasio first took office in January 2014, there were over 1,600 homeless men and women who served our country in our shelters or in our city streets," said Loree Sutton, the commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs and a former Brigadier General. Adding that the administration has drastically reduced that number, Sutton said that "our street homeless count today is only eight veterans."

Ninety-three percent of New York City's homeless or recently homeless veterans, Sutton added, currently have a rental subsidy or are in the process of getting one, and more than 300 are currently in the process of moving from shelter into a new apartment.

The hearing and its positive news followed Tuesday's victory for New York City veterans: the announcement that the city would create a new Department of Veterans Services to replace the the understaffed, underfunded, and under-performing Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs. City leaders, veterans, and veteran advocates celebrated Tuesday and Wednesday, which was Veterans Day.

"This is good news, indeed," Sutton said Thursday.

The story is not quite simple, of course.

"Obviously, the number that jumps out to me is eight street-homeless veterans in New York City by your count," said Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, in Q&A with Sutton after her initial testimony. "How do you determine that count? Are those people that you have an open case for? Are those people that you've identified as a veteran? Do you think that there are other homeless veterans living out in the street that you might not know of?"

According to Sutton, "multiple vectors" are used to count veterans, such as counts from peer-to-peer coordinators and MOVA's housing outreach team.

The question of the real number of street-homeless veterans was raised later at the hearing by Coco Culhane, director and founder of the Urban Justice Center's Veterans Advocacy Group.

"I just want to say that I know that our client database has the names of men and women who are homeless and DHS [Department of Homeless Services] doesn't have those names," Culhane said. "And I think it's ludicrous to say that 'we know every single homeless veteran out there.'"

In her testimony before the Council members, Culhane said that there are "at least twenty" homeless veterans not accounted for by the Department of Homeless Services, which collaborates with MOVA on veterans and housing.

And, she added, only 20 percent of homeless rent vouchers issued by the DHS Living in Communities Program (LINC) - a component of the city's plan to house all veterans - are being used. Landlords often don't accept them - an issue for veterans and non-veterans that the city must combat.

"I think that we need to absolutely celebrate the success of how much progress has been made," Culhane said of reducing homelessness among military veterans. "But keep in mind that 'functional zero' is a dangerous term, I think, and it signals to the public that we accomplished something and we're set and tax dollars solved it and we can move on, which is not true at all."

Maintaining functional zero and being in compliance with the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, the plan for mayors nationwide created by the Obama administration, will require that the city house all homeless veterans within 90 days of their loss of housing. In his February State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to house all veterans by the end of the year - de Blasio signed onto the challenge when it was created in June 2014.

Though the mayor has been unpopular with veteran advocacy groups, his support for the creation of the new department for veterans services may signal a turning point. Announcing an "end" to veteran homelessness in the city could help too.

"I think [the mayor's effort to end veteran homelessness] is a great idea," Dwight Curry, a Gulf War veteran and member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told Gotham Gazette on Tuesday at a rally to celebrate the new department. "I think it's a beautiful idea because there's too many of us that are homeless. There's a lot of guys who've got a lot of psychological problems who can't really deal with society as we know it."

Veteran advocates, who spoke at Thursday's hearing, were cautiously pleased about the city getting to functional zero. In her remarks, NYC Veterans Alliance Director Kristen Rouse echoed Culhane's concerns about the grasp the city has on the actual number of homeless veterans.

"When the city talks about functional zero, we must take into account the many veterans who still remain invisible to the system," Rouse said. "And that younger veterans in particular, who are contending with New York City's stark economic realities, may be at risk for homelessness in the near or long-term."

Part of what veterans and advocates want to see from MOVA and then the department that replaces it is a focus on helping veterans access physical and mental health care, jobs, housing, and, for those who own businesses, city contracting opportunities. The city will also be expected to better help veterans returning home to find quickly find affordable housing.

Even when veterans successfully find housing, the expensive market creates difficulties for sustaining their apartments, Rouse pointed out.

"Veterans must be included in any city effort to provide affordable housing, not just for the recently homeless, but to prevent veteran homelessness in the future."

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by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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City Set to Hit Functional Zero Veteran Homelessness, Though Challenges Remain Fri, 13 Nov 2015 04:57:17 +0000
First Report Under New Law Will Give Key Data to Coming Veterans Department http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5979:first-report-under-new-law-will-give-key-data-to-coming-veterans-department http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5979:first-report-under-new-law-will-give-key-data-to-coming-veterans-department sutton presser new dept

Tuesday's celebratory press conference (photo: @nylag)


On the eve of Veterans Day, the City Council passed a much-celebrated bill to create a new Department of Veterans Services, which will replace the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs in serving New York City’s large military veteran population. While the new department will still be under the mayor’s administration, it will now have access to more resources and be the subject of sharper Council oversight.

And, thanks to a previously passed bill sponsored by Council Member Paul Vallone, who sits on the Council’s veterans affairs committee, the new department will have important data to help it direct resources for veterans.

“It really is historic, creating a full-blown agency,” Vallone said Monday in a phone interview as the bill heads to Mayor Bill de Blasio for his signature. Vallone hopes that the mayor, who expressed his support for the bill after having been against it for some time, will be quick to sign the bill into law so the agency can be set up in time for preliminary budget discussions early next year. 

paul vallone william alatriste june 2014(Council Member Paul Vallone (William Alatriste))

Veteran advocacy groups and the City Council have been pushing for a separate agency for years, arguing that the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs has been underfunded, understaffed, and unable to effectively serve more than 200,000 veterans who call the city home. The new agency will provide for increased accountability. “Now we can really play a direct role,” Vallone said of City Council oversight and influence on the department’s budget.

Veterans and veteran advocates are overjoyed at this victory. “(MOVA) was primarily symbolic all these years,” said Kristen Rouse, a veteran and founding director of NYC Veterans Alliance. Insisting that MOVA has historically relied on the whims of the mayoral administration, Rouse said the new department will have the staffing and resources necessary to truly coordinate services for veterans.

The new department will also be bolstered by fresh data generated by the city on use of services by veterans in seven key categories. Mandated by the Vallone-sponsored bill passed by the City Council in February, the data is supposed to help determine the degree to which veterans avail themselves of existing services designed to help them secure income and housing, and to identify areas where city government should strengthen or modify services to meet the needs of city veterans.

The report, the first edition of which was presented to Council Member Vallone and his colleagues in time for Veterans Day and was viewed by Gotham Gazette, contains data related to certain housing applications by veterans and their spouses, as well as vending license applications and permits, and civil service exams.

“Earlier there was a void of information and now we have the data,” said Vallone of the report, which will help the city determine to what extent veterans are taking advantage of city services and may indicate where gaps in communication lie.

“It’s the beginning of being able to use facts to solve problems,” said Rouse. “The more the city knows, the more they’re able to do.”

The seven data points the administration must report under the law and the number indicated in the first report, which covers calendar year 2014:

  • The total number of Mitchell-Lama housing applications received from veterans or their surviving spouses and total number approved by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development: 71 and 66, respectively.
  • The total number of fee-exempt mobile food vending licenses and food vending permits issued to veterans by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to veterans: 95 and 65, respectively.
  • The total number of veterans who submitted an application to the Department of Consumer Affairs for a general vending license and the number issued to veterans: 570 and 447, respectively.
  • The total number of veterans residing in the city who utilized a HUD-VASH housing voucher (which help house homeless veterans): 2,268.
  • The total number of civil service examination applications received by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services for which the applicant claimed a veterans credit: 3,475.

It will take some time before the City Council or the new Department of Veterans Affairs can do much with this new data, but MOVA and the Council can at least consider it. After celebrating Veterans Day Wednesday, the Council’s veterans affairs committee meets Thursday to look at progress being made in ending homelessness among military veterans.

vallone and presser iava(photo: William Alatriste)

In the meantime, spirits remain high about the coming new department.

“This is a tremendous victory for the veterans movement,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in a statement. Rieckhoff said the passage of the bill is a “truly historic Veterans Day gift for veteran activists” across the city.  

In a Tuesday Gotham Gazette op-ed celebrating the news, veteran and veterans advocate Joe Bello, of NYMetroVets, thanked the many elected officials and advocates who contributed to the victory.

The bill to create the new department, sponsored by veterans committee Chair Council Member Eric Ulrich and supported by Vallone, traversed a rocky road to reach passage. Until last week, the mayor refused to support the proposal as did his commissioner of veterans affairs, Loree Sutton. But, after Mayor de Blasio reached an agreement with the Council last week, the bill sailed through with unanimous support Tuesday and is sure to be signed by de Blasio, who in all likelihood will name Sutton the commissioner of the new department.

“I liken it to how fifteen years ago, people would’ve thought that an agency dedicated to emergency management was duplicative,” Rouse said of OEM, reflecting. “Now we take for granted a separate agency which is absolutely essential.”

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurhsid

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First Report Under New Law Will Give Key Data to Coming Veterans Department Wed, 11 Nov 2015 01:06:11 +0000
City's Veterans Community Meets to Assess Policy, Build Cohesion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5830:citys-veterans-community-meets-to-assess-policy-build-cohesion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5830:citys-veterans-community-meets-to-assess-policy-build-cohesion veterans policy event pic

From Tuesday's event (photo: NYC Veterans Alliance via Facebook)


A steady stream of hands shot in the air as the speaker asked audience members to indicate if they had served their country, beginning with Vietnam and ending post-9/11.

At a forum on New York City Veterans Policy Tuesday night, hosted by the New York City Veterans Alliance, veterans and veteran advocates of diverse ages and backgrounds gathered to discuss the issues facing their community, including homelessness, funding for employment, healthcare and other services, and even how to define the term 'veteran.' The event occurred amid ongoing debate over how well city government is attending to veterans' needs and organizing its resources to best provide support to the hundreds of thousands of veterans living in the city.

"I would say different era veterans are having much different experiences in NYC. A lot of the student vets, there's a lot more support for them with the new GI bill, they're doing a lot better overall. And they're a lot more active in honing the community and helping with various student organizations and veterans associations at schools," said Vadim Panasyuk, who served in Iraq and works at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "But other era veterans that are struggling— from more forgotten conflicts, Korea, Vietnam— those vets are still struggling, and find themselves in legal whirlpool of all the different VSOs [veteran support organizations] and dealing with misinformation from one service provider to another and it becomes very discouraging to seek out help."

Iraq War veteran Tireak Tulloch, a spokesman for IAVA, agreed. "If you're a veteran from a different era, [service providers] don't know what to do with you," Tulloch said.

Vietnam veteran Lee Covino, who recently served as Vice-Chairman of the City's Veterans Advisory Board, described witnessing an "identity crisis."

"You have people who are separated by campaigns...you have a huge population out there and one of the things that irks me is when a vet tells me, 'I'm not a vet,'" Covino said. "That's nonsense. You're an era and you need to organize that way."

The efficacy and availability of resources for veterans was a key part of Tuesday night's discussion, with NYC Veterans Alliance interim director Kristen Rouse noting in her opening remarks that the city committed to a "notable" increase in funding for veterans in the fiscal year 2016 budget.

"I think there's been tremendous progress and the city has come together, but...There's a real sense to me of a lack of cohesion of all these different efforts," said Coco Culhane, the founding director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center. "And there's not a whole lot of infrastructure they can turn to at the city level and especially for veterans who are not eligible for these federal VA dollars. The city is their safety net and we need to be there for them so I think we have a long way to go, even with just acknowledging veterans."

There is conversation at the city level over whether the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, or MOVA, should become its own city agency, removed from within the mayor's office, but still under the mayor's purview. Creating a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, as called for by a City Council bill that has had one public hearing but does not have Mayor Bill de Blasio's support, would likely give work to support veterans more clarity, resources, and oversight.

"You need people who know what they're doing to serve this population and having experts but also having oversight. If we're going to address all of the issues that are included in that report," Rouse told Gotham Gazette referring to the report NYC Veterans Alliance recently released, "if we want to properly address this stuff, there has to be an accountable agency that has programmatic oversight of what these different city agencies are doing." The report, which surveyed almost 500 veterans in the New York metropolitan area, identified veterans' key concerns, including improving access to the VA suicide hotline and increasing oversight of veteran service organizations that receive city funding.

Comedian and television host John Oliver delivered opening remarks describing his experience being married to a veteran. "It's hard being married to a veteran because you can't complain about your day," Oliver quipped. "'Oh, you had a bad day writing jokes? Shut up!'"

But Oliver also took a more serious turn, underlining the importance of doing more than just saying "thank you" to military veterans.

"It's too easy to say 'thank you,' but you're not actually doing anything. There can be a real seduction in people having lovely commercials on TV, introducing veterans at football games, but it's not doing anything to fix infrastructure," Oliver said.

Moderator Phoebe Gavin, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, commented that "the average American is just not very connected to the [military] campaigns that have occurred," adding that many might not have a veteran in family. "There's just not as much connection to campaigns as there used to be...we've been at the mall all this time," Gavin said of most Americans going about their business, like shopping, while a small group serves in the military or has a family member doing so.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette prior to the forum, Oliver highlighted the work organizations Team Rubicon and Mission Continues do to assist veterans' transition back to civilian life. Team Rubicon unites military veterans with first responders to deploy emergency response teams, giving veterans the opportunity to put the skills they learned in the armed forces to use responding to natural disasters.

"They are a good example of providing practical assistance," Oliver said. "And most veterans don't want help, they're not a group that will complain, they don't want to be treated like a charity case. They want to be given opportunities."

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by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette
@CatieEdmondson

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City's Veterans Community Meets to Assess Policy, Build Cohesion Wed, 29 Jul 2015 18:56:23 +0000
Mayor & Council Announce $78.5B Fiscal 2016 Budget Deal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5784:mayor-a-council-announce-785b-fiscal-2016-budget-deal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5784:mayor-a-council-announce-785b-fiscal-2016-budget-deal MMV BdB budget deal

Mayor & Speaker announce budget (photo: William Alatriste)


A little after 10 p.m. Monday night and more than a week before deadline, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that they had reached a deal on a balanced fiscal year 2016 city budget. The $78.5 billion budget is for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and includes additional spending from the mayor's Executive Budget, released in May, for several Council priorities - including the hiring of 1,297 new NYPD officers. Along with the expanded NYPD headcount, the budget includes funding for six-day library service around the city, parks workers, senior citizen services, a city bail fund, and other key items that were negotiated over the past months. The budget also reflects new agency savings and increased tax revenue, thus showing only a $200 million increase from the mayor's executive budget.

De Blasio gave credit to his budget team, led by Office of Management and Budget Director Dean Feulihan, and Mark-Viverito to hers, led by Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who was the third speaker Monday evening after de Blasio and Mark-Viverito. The mayor and speaker gave what each sees as the highlights from their perspective, as did Ferreras-Copeland, then the press assembled in the rotunda at City Hall peppered the mayor with questions about why he had relented to the Council push - two years in the making - to add significantly to the NYPD force. Explaining that the two sides had agreed to key cost savings like a cap on NYPD overtime, de Blasio also indicated that he and council leadership believe the added personpower will allow NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to implement true neighborhood policing. There will also be new officers devoted "to counter-terror work."

In a release to the media, de Blasio's office touts the budget as moving forward "key initiatives to tackle income inequality and lift up families across the five boroughs, while protecting and strengthening the City's long-term fiscal health."

When he spoke, de Blasio named three standout aspects to him: increased funding toward the city's most struggling, or "renewal", schools specifically for extended learning time and health services; additional funding for libraries that will return them to six-day service; and the plan for an expanded NYPD headcount. In the statement released by his office, he said, "We're strengthening the NYPD's ranks, devoting new officers to counter-terror work and neighborhood policing, while securing vital fiscal reforms in overtime and civilianization. We are also making critical investments in our renewal schools, libraries, and so much more."

For her part, Mark-Viverito highlighted the investment in seniors, which, according to the mayor's office, includes "$4.3 million to eliminate waitlists for the Department for the Aging's homecare program, and $2 million to expand elder abuse prevention," as well as "$750,000 – growing in the out years – to fund support services through the Seniors in Affordable Rental Apartments (SARA) Program; 30 percent of those units are set aside for homeless seniors." Referring to strong ongoing lobbying efforts by seniors and their Council member allies (chiefly led by Council Members Margaret Chin and Paul Vallone), Mark-Viverito acknowledged the "active," "vocal," and fast-growing population of aging New Yorkers.

In a statement, Mark-Viverito also highlighted new Council spending, saying, "From establishing a Citywide bail fund, to creating new jobs for young adults, to strengthening the City's commitment to veterans and hiring 1,297 more NYPD officers to keep us safe, our budget makes New York City a better place to call home." The Council is dedicating $1.4 million to create a new bail fund, part of "$280 million in Council initiatives that will support New Yorkers throughout the City."

The goal of the bail fund is "to keep those accused of non-violent, low-level offenses out of jail. The Council's Bail Fund will provide bail of up to $2,000 and will save the City millions of dollars in incarceration costs and will help make the City's criminal justice system more just," according to a Council press release.

The budget includes additional funding toward parks that had been lobbied for by Council members and advocates, including almost $700,000 to extend beach season one week past Labor Day.

The deal received a mostly positive response from Council Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, who said in a statement, "I am thrilled that the City Council has restored funding for gardeners and maintenance workers--saving 150 vitally needed jobs, and protecting a critical resource for parks in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. I am also excited that we will be extending the beach season, allowing countless New Yorkers to enjoy these resources for a week past Labor Day," said Council Member Mark Levine. "I am disappointed the budget does not provide additional funds for community gardens, playground staff, mid-sized parks, and other important needs our park system faces. I look forward to continuing to work with the Mayor and my colleagues in the Council to bring greater resources to a park system that has been underfunded for far too long."

While de Blasio noted the increased funding heading toward the renewal schools that are the focus of much Department of Education effort and outside scrutiny, there are other key school-related additions to the budget, including $6.6 million for the DOE to "hire 50 additional physical education teachers and conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to address barriers and move schools toward full physical education compliance." There was a City Council hearing last week focused on the city's continued violation of state physical education requirements. This move in the budget may slow Council attempts to enact legislation requiring more reporting by the DOE on physical education programming, staffing, and space.

There's also "$17.9 million to phase-in breakfast in the classroom at 530 elementary schools, serving 339,000 students" by fiscal year 2018. While money for this Council priority, otherwise known as "breakfast after the bell," is included, there is no expansion of universal free lunch, which the Council had been pushing for. Last year, the program was instituted in middle schools, where all students are now provided lunch at no charge, but the mayor said that the results of the program were underwhelming and that instead of expanding it to elementary and/or high schools, the city would first look to do more outreach around the middle school offering and see if there is a noted improvement in year two.

The budget includes "$1.14 million to fund 80 additional school crossing guards," which will help contribute to the mayor's Vision Zero traffic and pedestrian safety work around schools, and more money for teachers to spend on their classrooms. On Twitter, the United Federation of Teachers thanked Mark-Viverito specifically, noting that "The city budget contains a 62% increase in Teacher's Choice funds. Teachers should get $125 next school year, up from $77."

One point of contention, especially heightened of late, has been funding and function at the Mayor's Office of Veteran Affairs. There has been a push to pass a Council bill that would create a new Department of Veterans Affairs, moving the work outside of the mayor's office (though still under the mayor's control) and allowing for increased funding and Council oversight. That bill is likely stalled in the Council, though it has over thirty sponsors, while the new budget includes "$1.5 million in new staff and resources to meet the Mayor's goal of ending veteran homelessness, and $335,000 to fund a team of Veterans Service Officers that will be deployed in communities throughout the five boroughs," according to the mayor's office.

Meanwhile, the NYPD investment for nearly 1,300 new officers is much of what everyone is talking about. The mayor had pushed back against Council pleas (and even a few from Bratton) for hiring 1,000 new officers during both the fiscal 2015 and 2016 budget processes. This budget, however, includes "$170 million to add new uniformed officers to the NYPD, coupled with vital reforms in overtime and civilianization that will generate over $70 million in savings when fully phased-in. The new officers will be dedicated to counter-terror efforts and neighborhood policing – central to Commissioner Bratton's reengineering of the Department to bring police and community closer together while keeping crime low," according to the mayor's office.

Police reform advocates expressed immediate displeasure with the compromise and budget watchdogs shared concern about the choice's fiscal ramifications. The Police Reform Organizing Project, or PROP, released a statement saying, in part, "Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council leaders have made a truly terrible decision to add 1300 or so new officers to the NYPD's headcount. Rather than solve problems it will aggravate existing difficulties, deepening the racial, social, and economic inequities that plague our city and adding to the antagonism and distrust that communities of color already feel toward the police and the criminal justice system." De Blasio and others, of course, argue differently, saying that more officers will allow the NYPD to develop stronger community relationships and do more preventative policing.

Meanwhile, the Citizens Budget Commission said in a statement, "The FY 16 adopted budget announced by the Mayor and the Council this evening adds approximately $200 million in spending for additional police, social service providers and other programs. Although there is additional revenue available to fund these costs in the coming fiscal year, the agreed upon additions are an added risk to the City's fiscal health in future years, when budget gaps are already projected and when an inevitable economic downturn will erode the revenue required to pay for recurring expenses."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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Mayor & Council Announce $78.5B Fiscal 2016 Budget Deal Tue, 23 Jun 2015 10:54:38 +0000