A Long Island shelter for veterans closes as homeless vet population decreases

WSHU | By Natalie Discenza


Photo: Kmccaul/Flickr

A 23-bed shelter for homeless veterans in Yaphank on Long Island that has been in operation since 1996 has closed.

Veterans Place housed homeless adult veterans and helped them reintegrate into the community. It also served as a stepping stone until vets moved into a stable home where they could be self-sufficient.

Colleen Merlo, CEO of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness in Ronkonkoma, which ran the shelter, said the shelter closed because significant strides are being made when it comes to addressing veterans being homeless.

“That really was a direct result of organizations coming together to combat the problem of homeless veterans and to ensure that when a veteran became homeless, that there was a lot of services and wraparound, so that the person would not remain homeless for very long,” Merlo said. “Through these efforts, there's much more availability of affordable and permanent housing for veterans, so the shelter was serving fewer and fewer veterans over time.”

The number of veterans experiencing homelessness in America has gone from slightly over 74,000 in 2010 to just over 37,000 in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Veterans Place only housed six veterans when they closed. Those vets were moved either to permanent housing or to a shelter location at the VA.

Merlo said the association will continue to find permanent housing for veterans through the Joseph P. Dwyer Project, which was founded in Suffolk County.

“It's an evidence-informed self help model that helps veterans who are struggling with transition to post military service,” Merlo said.

“The real magic in the program is that people are talking vet to vet. There are people who we've worked with who are from the Vietnam era, who never recognized or were willing to address some of the mental health problems or the post traumatic stress that they were dealing with, but because it was a veteran talking to them as another vet and helping them to get the support needed, people actually were able to move on and get the support and services that they needed.”

The Dwyer program is for any veteran, homeless or not.

Any veterans in need of assistance can call the Association for Mental Health and Wellness at 631-471-7242.