The New Jersey American Legion has always been concerned and proactive regarding the plight of our homeless veterans. Their National Headquarters recognized these accomplishments and efforts by presenting them with the Michael Guty Homeless Veterans Outreach Award “For An Exceptional Effort Towards The Elimination Of Homelessness Among Veterans.”
This prestigious first place award was presented to them at their 97th National Convention in Baltimore, Md., on Aug. 29. NJ Employment & Education Chairman Bob Looby, of Pittstown, Hunterdon County, accepted the award stating, “It is truly an honor to receive this recognition, but more attention should be given to our homeless by eradicating this situation of our veterans, which we will continue to do, and more communities should pursue.”
(Michael Guty was a Ct. Legionnaire who upon his death bequeath $800,000 to this homeless veteran plight.) Some statistics regarding this tragedy include: 20 percent of male homeless population are Veterans; 47 percent served during the Vietnam War; 89 percent received Honorable Discharge; and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Additionally, and tragically 8 percent of homeless Veterans are Women (many with children), also the fastest growing homeless Veteran population.
The Legion has raised and donated $420,000 in three years to homeless veteran programs. This included totally furnishing a new NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) owned and operated building addition at Veterans Haven – South, in Camden County, including 44 bedroom suites, office furniture, computer room, exercise equipment, etc. Mostly Legion Posts, Auxiliary Units, and Sons of The American Legion Squadrons contributed to this cause, which each donor of at least $2,000 had their organizations’ name affixed on the room number signage. This type of donation continued with the recently renovated Veterans Haven – North complex (previous Hagedorn facility in Glen Gardner) with 100 new bedroom suites.
Similar recognition was provided to the donors with respective room signage. Numerous vans to provide transportation to search for jobs and to the VA facilities, TV’s, pool tables, air conditioners, bedding, parties and BBQ’s have been provided at these and other facilities over the years. In subsequent statements, Looby always emphasizes that credit must also be given to the NJ State Parole Board, under the leadership of Chairman James Plousis, and DMAVA’s Deputy Commissioner Ray Zawacki, supported by The Adjutant General Michael Cunniff, for their proactive work for our homeless.
Plousis approached Looby when he was State Commander, for several program ideas to assist veterans and homeless. Subsequently, the Housing Our Heroes program was initiated, wherein more than 100 public and private homeless veteran service providers have been identified and meet periodically to network, and remedy this homeless “heartbreak.” These donated vans are also used to transport these facilities’ resident to some of the 32 Legion Job & Resource fairs since 2011. This is why Looby’s Committee designed and initiated these type of events which also tackle homelessness, criminal justice situations, mental health, as well as unemployment. All these veterans’ conditions have a cause and effect interface and causality.