When Congress reconvenes next year, an issue of great importance to veterans across the nation is a bill that would emphasize a "tough love" approach in helping homeless veterans, many with alcohol, drug and emotional problems.
Supporters of the Veterans' Transitional Housing Opportunities Act gathered Thursday in the Dulski Federal Office Building to give testimony during a Hearing on Housing for Homeless Veterans.
"One-third of the homeless people in our nation are veterans," said Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, who led the hearing. "About one-half of the veterans who are homeless have a problem with alcohol or drugs and experience a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse that the homeless population as a whole."
Quinn endorsed the bill, which would authorize the Veterans Administration to guarantee loans for transitional housing for homeless veterans. The bill establishes a public-private partnership to help homeless veterans get back into the working world.
The program would demand that participants remain sober throughout the transition program and then pay rent and maintain a steady job as they go through the program.
The measure, he said, "provides a loan guarantee to businesses whose mission is to provide transitional housing to homeless veterans in an atmosphere that promotes an alcohol- and drug-free lifestyle."
Joining Quinn at the hearing were Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., an original co-sponsor of the bill and ranking Democratic member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda.
Representatives of statewide service providers, including Veterans Hospital in Buffalo, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the New York State Department of Labor, joined representatives of veterans organizations and others in submitting written testimony to the committee.
One supporter of the measure, William Lyons, vice president of First National Bank, said the bank already has developed partnerships with organizations such as the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition and Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services Inc.
"The potential with this bill for safe, secure, clean, drug- and alcohol-free housing for the homeless vet is significant."
David V.H. Dollner, the state's administrator for veterans programs, said, "Passage of this bill will lead to veterans earning their own income, employers utilizing available work-force skills and local economies receiving increased benefits from veteran spending."
Dr. Joan Sulewski, a representative of Quinn's Veterans Advisory Committee, noted there are 1,500 to 2,500 homeless veterans in Buffalo, about 5 percent of them women.