Fordham Law’s Feerick Center for Social Justice works with a broad array of partners to assist the more than 1,270 homeless veterans living in New York. In 2019, the Center helped convene the New York City Veteran’s Law Working Group, which unites legal service providers serving low-income veterans. “A major focus of policy and program work has been preventing or ending veteran homelessness,” said Dora Galacatos, executive director of the Feerick Center.
On August 24, the Feerick Center, through its Feerick Center Veteran Rights Project (FCVRP), hosted “Representing Veterans in Housing Matters: An Introduction to Veteran Cultural Competency, Veteran Benefits, and Special Housing Programs for Veteran Clients,” a practical CLE aimed at helping legal services attorneys to offer holistic support to veteran clients, especially when assisting them in housing-related matters. The virtual event was attended by more than 112 people.
Panelists included: Shara Abraham, supervising attorney at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley’s Newburgh Office; Pete Kempner, legal director & Elderly Project director at Volunteers of Legal Service; Erica Ludwick, managing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York; Melissa Molfetas, former supervising attorney at the Veteran Advocacy Project; and Kelly O’Sullivan, managing program director of the Jericho Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving New York’s homeless population. The five shared their experience and expertise, offering attendees a wealth of information and resources.
Kempner, who also serves as co-chair of the NYC Veterans Law Working Group, stressed how important it is for any lawyers working with clients on housing issues to screen for military service. He remarked that housing issues were frequently tied to other, interconnected problems. “Oftentimes, it’s an issue of whether [your clients]have access to the right benefits, or whether there’s some mental health or substance abuse issue going on,” he noted. “Particularly when we’re serving veteran clients, there are so many programs out there for veterans that could be a real problem solver in your housing practice.”
Molfetas, who previously served in the New York Army National Guard, focused on communicating the diversity and the complicated hierarchy of the military. “What would be important for you to know if you’re going to have a culturally-competent conversation with a veteran is that we’re not all soldiers and the army is not the only component of the United States military,” she explained.
Understanding these distinctions, Molfetas noted, is not only essential for empathizing with their client’s experience, but has a practical component, as well—different lengths and types or service, as well as different types of military discharge, entitle veterans to different levels of support.
Ludwick, Abraham, and O’Sullivan gave attendees a comprehensive overview not only of the services available from their respective organizations, but also highlighted many of the public programs designed to prevent veteran homelessness, including a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH), which combines HUD housing vouchers and VA support services.
For more information about the CLE or the VLV, please contact the Feerick Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.