Every morning, while driving to work, I see the same homeless couple on Old Country Road. They have two shopping basket carts piled high with clothing and, I assume, other personal belongings. Even in some of the coldest weather, I see them huddled in the shelter of an office building entrance overhang. They seem oblivious to the world around them ¬ just as we are generally oblivious to their existence. I often wonder who they are, and what brought them to this point in their lives.
Unfortunately, they are not alone. The Nassau-Suffolk Coalition for the Homeless (NSCH) estimates that there are, at any one time, some 40,000 homeless people here on Long Island. And that number is probably low. Half of the homeless on Long Island are children. Many of the homeless are hidden. For a time, they may live doubled and tripled up with a relative or a friend. Next, they may end up in an emergency shelter or bench on the street, sleeping in abandoned cars or vacant buildings. The numbers are expanding even in good economic times.
Fortunately, there is one fine Long Island Organization trying to help with the plight of the homeless. NSCH is a not-for-profit organization with one mission ¬ reducing the number of homeless on Long Island. Founded in 1988, NSCH is both a referral agency and advocate for the homeless. It coordinates the work of 125 agencies and organizations and provides significant technical assistance.
Funding for their support is a constant struggle. That is another area where the NSCH plays a major role. With seminars and grant writing and providing information about the sources of funds, NSCH helps its agencies improve homeless programs.
In its advocacy and education role, NSCH supports three types of housing. Emergency housing is critical so that no human being is forced to sleep on the street. Transitional housing is important, because it creates an atmosphere in which homeless people with problems can receive professional support in a home-like environment. Permanent low cost housing provides a home for families and individuals in low income jobs or for those who may be on some form of public assistance.
Funding is extremely important for the NSCH to carry out its mission. Through the efforts of NSCH, its member organizations, and Congressman Rick Lazio, Long Island has just received $6.7 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funds will be used for example, to develop housing for those with psychiatric disabilities, traumatic brain damage, elderly veterans and victims of domestic violence. In approving the grants, Secretary Andrew Cuomo said, "The Long Island agencies that will be receiving grants this year will play an important role delivering vital services that the homeless need ¬ services such as quality housing stock and critical support services.
If you would like to learn more about the fine work of the Nassau-Suffolk Coalition for the Homeless, call Joan Noguera at 742-7770.