Helping Struggling Veterans

By Michael Hill

You can find the homeless — some of them veterans — outside Newark’s Penn Station, bent, broken, begging for change and in need of change.

Timothy Paxton used to be one of America’s homeless vets, struggling with addiction and other issues. He researched and took advantage of a VA and Community Hope of Parsippany partnership and landed an apartment at Valley Brook Village for veterans.

“It’s great a great place as far as I am concerned. I am living with fellow veterans that understand me and I understand them,” said Paxton.

Now, Paxton works as a Community Hope outreach caseworker looking to help vets in North Jersey.

“Evidence shows that if you get housing, you recover much faster from other things that made you become homeless in the first place,” said Carmine Deo, COO and VP of clinical services.

The VA has and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have challenged America’s mayors — 13 of them in New Jersey so far — to permanently house homeless vets and give them life-sustaining services by 2015.

“The idea that someone should go and jeopardize their life and their health for us and then come home and not have a roof over their head, it’s kind of in this country, kind of really tears at our hearts. How could this be in our country?” asked Maria Maio-Messano of HUD.

The same sentiment from Paterson Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, who says he diverted funds from one program to house some of the 100 homeless vets here.

“These individuals will receive a voucher, similar to a section eight voucher, so as long as the deed is there it becomes a permanent voucher,” said Torres.

A Rutgers program in Newark is doing its part to make sure Garden State veterans are well taken care of have skills from the garden.

Desert Storm vet Sonja Dabney talks tomatoes and taking advantage of the Rutgers Urban Gardening Program that teaches vets horticulture.

The May-to-December program turned this in to this.

“It is like we are playing in the dirt, type of thing, it’s not work. I am actually enjoying myself a lot,” said Dabney.

“It has become really important to the the vets that they are helping green a part of Newark,” said Rutgers Urban Gardening Director Jan Zientek.

“New Jersey has the highest veteran unemployment rate in the nation. It is more than 10 percent so it is really important to not just provide homes for homeless veterans but to provide the skills to get back into the workforce,” said Rutgers Urban Garden agent Amy Rowe.

The Rutgers Urban Gardening Program has a waiting list as these vets say Rutgers is “growing” entrepreneurs and in a different way meeting the challenge of caring for and housing veterans.