The federal government recently informed a housing organization in Dutchess County that it will cut funding for a program that serves homeless veterans by the end of September. The surprise announcement is prompting local officials to band together for a solution. On Tuesday, two members of Congress from New York asked the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary to reverse the decision.
The Veterans Affairs Department notified Poughkeepsie-based Hudson River Housing at the beginning of September that it would not fund the organization’s homeless veterans program that works with people throughout Dutchess County. Now, in a September 19 letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney say that cutting this funding breaks a promise to care for veterans, especially the most vulnerable. The letter asks the secretary to do the right thing, as the Democrats put it, to reverse the decision.
“We’re shocked and devastated,” Hines says.
Christa Hines is executive director of Hudson River Housing. She says the VA has funded the program since its inception in 2012 in about the same amount, and the program has served more than 458 homeless or at-risk veteran families.
“And we’ve had a great rapport and relationship with the VA. They’ve been very supportive. We’ve actually received awards for our program,” Hines says. “So, for us, so we’re shocked that they would just pull the funding two weeks before it was expected to renew without any warning and without any reason.”
She says Hudson River Housing has 30 open cases of homeless veterans, with about 10 new cases each month. Hines is committed to keeping the program going.
“It’s going to be difficult, definitely, if we don’t receive any private support or government support, it’s going to be very hard,” says Hines. “So we can’t make long-term promises but, we’re going to be working really hard. And we’re not turning anyone away at this point or closing cases or anything. Really, quite the contrary, we’re reaffirming our commitment to serve our veterans.”
A Veterans Affairs spokesperson could not be reached. The funding, totaling just more than $500,000 for the current fiscal year, enables Hudson River Housing to provide services for homeless veterans and their families as well as those at imminent risk of homelessness. Additionally, five full-time staff members, two of whom are veterans, are funded through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families grant. Republican Congressman John Faso sent a letter September 13 to the director of the SSVF program within Veterans Affairs asking for funding to continue. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro sent a letter September 14 to the same program director, asking for the VA to reverse its decision.
“It is absurd to have cancelled the grant, and it is egregious to have done so with such short notice, putting the organization, its employees and the veterans they serve at risk, not enabling a transition to any other program or any other funding,” Molinaro says. “We’ll continue to advocate and Dutchess County has requested a 12-month extension of the current funding. There are, however, alternate opportunities that we’re going to work with Hudson River Housing and the local veterans community to try to investigate and consider.”
One such alternative might be working with Westchester Community Opportunity Program in some capacity. Republican state Senator Sue Serino, whose district includes part of Dutchess, says she has been working with Molinaro and the congressional representatives to ensure the program continues.
“Oh, it’s devastating, Allison, and, like I’ve said, we’re being penalized because we do such a great job. I think we have a 98.5 percent rating as well as helping our veterans, homeless veterans, find housing, find jobs,” says Serino. “I have a Veterans Advisory Committee, and one of my guys is actually one of the employees, so he brought it to my attention, and I’ve known what a great job they’re doing.”
Congressman Maloney had sent another letter September 13 directly to President Trump asking him to intervene.