Jericho Project: The Veterans Initiative
By Jean Harris On May 31, 2011 @ 3:59 pm In New York City | No Comments
NEW YORK—Monday May 23 was a dreary and overcast day outside; inside Fordham Village in the Bronx, however, an inspiring story was unfolding, and things were much brighter.
A diverse group of city and federal officials, press and visitors, veterans and civilians, supporters and recipients, had assembled for the grand opening of the new six-story, 56-unit affordable housing development for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It is the first veterans’ residence of its kind in New York in 17 years. That was the official story.
However, the latest marvel in the Jericho Project Veterans Initiative turned out to be a series of stories about the people involved, and the lives touched by what Fordham Village Program Director Louis Burns called an “audacious goal, the goal to end veterans’ homelessness.”
The event was at once solemn and celebratory. There were honored guests whose support and contributions were publicly recognized and honors for those who had pledged and lost their lives defending the nation. It was a perfect advent to the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
The Jericho Project started out in 1983 as a soup kitchen in a church basement on the Upper West Side. The mission was to end homelessness at its roots. The strategy was to create a community that inspired individual change, fostered sustainable independence, and motivated homeless men and women to reach their greatest potential. All that is eloquently presented in Jericho Project’s history on their website.
A story within the story for the day was that of Tori Lyon, executive director, of the Jericho Project since 2005. She had barely gotten through the first paragraph of her welcoming statement and it was obvious she was visibly moved by the proceedings and the assemblage. The Veterans Initiative was her “child.”
“In 2003 while I was attending a conference on homelessness, I was shocked by the statistics for veterans in the larger picture of the homeless population,” she said. There was a Veterans Affairs (VA) representative at this conference and she asked if the VA wasn’t doing something about it. She was told the VA’s mission didn’t include residential help, that it mainly provides clinical services.
She felt strongly that the government should take care of the troops; however, if they did not, the community would provide. In 2006, she shared her vision and, with federal and local support, Jericho Project’s Veterans Initiative was born.
Col. David Sutherland is special assistant for Warrior and Family Support, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, husband, father, citizen, and soldier. Col. Sutherland was the guest speaker for the event. Part of the mission in his current post is to “lead the effort to improve the quality of life and work for returning warriors, their families, and the families of the fallen for the remainder of their lives.”
In his official capacity he spoke of the importance of public-private partnerships in the community that make organizations like Jericho Project and its Veterans Initiative successful. He introduced a member of his staff, a Navy lieutenant commander, citing how the power of an adoptive U.S. service member family and a supportive community facilitated her greater potential from her humble beginnings as a Vietnamese orphan.
“The mission comes first,” he said, introducing the uninitiated to the warrior code. He gravely relayed the story of a veteran that gave his life so that the colonel could be before us that day, because the mission came first. The colonel had pledged his commitment to caring for the soldier’s family as repayment for this sacrifice, a commitment echoed in the initiative.
“We stumble, but don’t fall,” he said. Jericho Project’s Veterans Initiative offers that supportive shoulder. With that in mind, Col. Sutherland encouraged a call to action, increased public awareness, and a commitment to community service.
“The government can’t do this,” he said. “The community can.” Like the warrior’s code to never leave a fallen comrade behind, the mission of the Veterans Initiative was important to the community in its service to the veteran.
Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr., is a World War II veteran, Tuskegee Airman, and director of the Center for Urban Education Policy at the City University of New York. Dr. Brown was an honored guest at the event and is on the Jericho Project Veterans Advisory Council. He is an active member of the community, a New York City Treasure, and is credited with being an Air Force World War II.who shot down a German jet fighter early on in
Advisory Council member and South Dakota State Sen. Larry Pressler, the first Vietnam veteran elected to the U.S. Senate, had a personal message for Dr. Brown. He good-humoredly relayed thanks from former senator and 1972 presidential nominee George McGovern, a bomber pilot, to Dr. Brown, the fighter pilot, for saving his life during the war.
After the introduction, Ms. Lyon proudly announced that the community room at Fordham Village was being named the Red Tails Community Room, in honor of the and Dr. Brown. The Tuskegee Airmen collectively received the Congressional Gold Medal and Brown briefly served as a Tuskegee commander, though not during combat.
Jericho Project boasts a 95 percent success rate. According to Ms. Lyon the five-component model works because veterans appear to do well when they are together and can share a common experience. The components are: a sense of community and shared purpose, housing, comprehensive services, aftercare, and cost-effective business management. It is also a model focused on strengths and potential. “It’s not a handout,” Ms. Lyons said. “Dignity is also important.”
Veterans sign a lease and pay 30 percent of their income as rent. They can choose to be there short term or permanently, just like in the private sector. Financial support also comes by way of Section 8 vouchers that are provided to make the housing more affordable. From the beginning, this initiative fit into Jericho Project’s mission.
Reportedly, about 60 percent of homeless veterans also have substance abuse issues. Substance abuse counseling is part of Jericho Project’s comprehensive services. Counseling services also include vocational, educational, financial, and social support, with additional referral for medical or psychological services. However, Ms. Lyon and the staff often point out, “It’s not a hospital, it’s a home.” The focus is not just on having a place to live, but on the quality of life. Fordham Village will also have a dedicated staff, most are veterans themselves.
Prentiss Donaldson, U.S. Army reservist, was forced to move within 24 hours when her landlord was arrested and the doors of her home were closed. Although she attempted to rely on family first, the living situations proved untenable and she had to look elsewhere for a more permanent solution. A veteran career counselor suggested she try Jericho. She was initially dubious and tore up the first application. After a second thought she filled one out, submitted it, and was surprised that she received a response within two days! She has since completed a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology and is pursuing a master’s degree.
“I’m just humbled and honored to share my story,” she said, about being asked to speak at the event. “What I’ve done, what I’ve come through, it fits in with the Army motto ‘I will never accept defeat, I will never quit.’ I hope my experience inspires others and they know that whatever they are going through, they can come through it.”
“How great it was to see people thinking of Jericho," she added. "And we should all be thankful for the people [at Jericho] who rekindle our spirit.”
There were many other stories at the grand opening of Fordham Village. The Jericho Project Veterans Advisory council was well represented and the many veteran visitors were asked to stand and be acknowledged for their service. Each person that contributed and will continue to contribute to the success of the Veterans Initiative is another story to be told.
Jericho Project broke ground for Fordham Village in 2008 and it will be fully functional, with staff and residents, in June. It is just the first phase of the Veterans Initiative. A second veterans’ facility is already in the works and is set to open in the fall.
Memorial Day is a time to pause and remember those who have died. Jericho Project also reminds us “On with Life,” an honorable life with dignity and a sense of renewed purpose for the American veteran.
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