Ricky Ham, one of Beacon House’s case managers, took this reporter to one of their smaller transitional houses. Ham, 54, served in the Army from 1979 to 1985. Born in Brooklyn and now living in Babylon, he says, “I joined because I really wanted to go. You could call it patriotism, or you could call it just being part of the United States.”
This place is a well-maintained, two-story house with a fenced-off backyard, within walking distance of a train station.
Inside was a formerly homeless Vietnam veteran who had served in the Navy but asked to remain nameless. He had just returned from a counseling program at the VA.
“I lost a brother and that’s what caused me to start drinking even more,” he says. “Me and my wife, we separated because of my problem drinking. She said, ‘That’s it.’ Which I understood,” he says, with a noticeable sadness in his eyes.
He left two children behind and ultimately ended up in the hospital in need of a liver operation. Now that he’s on the mend, he’s been sober for “six months,” and is touch with his wife. “I need to get myself together, and the only way I could do that is by staying away from my old place.”
At this Beacon House, there’s a pay phone by the back door, and a stockpile of food in the pantry in the basement. On the fridge is a list of cooking schedules and household chores. Near the coffeemaker is an embellished poster that reads: “With enough coffee anything is possible!”
The man we met, who’s in his mid-50s, is the third oldest resident of this particular house. “We come from all different places. All different wars,” he says. “A lot of the guys have trauma, PTSD.” What do they have in common? “Being a veteran, that’s what it is, you know. That’s what we got. We’re together.”
On our way out, Rickey Ham reminds the man that he’ll be back later that night for the weekly house meeting. “Any situations that come up within the house, that’s where I come in,” Ham tells the Press.
“To a lot of our residents,” says Amalfitano in his office, “we’re not the institution; we’re the family.”
Amalfitano, 63, says he takes his job home with him “24-7,” and adds, “I’m tired, man!” Asked what he’d like to see, he sighs. “I believe there’s a need for more permanent, affordable housing. That is the piece of the mission that I haven’t accomplished on my watch.”
Mary Joesten of the Faith Mission Outreach Center in Freeport has high hopes that the New York Veterans Advocacy Group, which she co-chairs, will soon be able to announce plans that it’s secured a building in Nassau to house 80 homeless vets and provide them with the services they need to get back on their feet. On her six-person advisory board are Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato.
“Our mission,” reads the group’s press release, “is to establish comprehensive transitional housing offering physical health care, a medically managed evaluation program, psychiatric help when needed and safe housing under one roof.”
Joesten tells the Press they have a building in mind but won’t disclose the locale until the sale is finalized. The initial cost would run more than $1 million. Nassau’s veterans would benefit from having a centralized location, Joesten says, because the Northport VA “is good for Suffolk” and the VA facility on the St. Albans campus is “good for Queens.”
“What I’m proposing will save taxpayers’ money as well as save the veterans’ lives,” Joesten explains.
Rickey Ham, case manager of United Veterans Beacon House, sees it this way: “We’re in the business of saving veterans’ lives, man. That is the bottom line.”
“This is an all-volunteer Army,” says Yngstrom of Nassau County Veterans Services. “They went to fight for us on their own. They’re coming home, and they’re getting snubbed by people. On Election Day everybody loves them. Everybody loves them in this county, but [they say,] ‘You can’t put up a facility in my backyard because I have children!’ Hello?! That could be your child coming back! You know what I’m saying? We need to take care of the people who took care of us.”