BRONX, NY (PIX 11)—They risk their lives on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, but as dangerous and difficult as that is, it's just as hard, if not harder, for many combat veterans after they get back stateside. However, for the first time in 17 years, a new facility is opening in New York City to house veterans and provide them the support they need to successfully re-enter civilian culture.
Fordham Village is a 56-room apartment building for veterans who have served during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. It's founded by the Jericho Project, an organization that brings together, private federal, state and local funding to create affordable, furnished housing for veterans who otherwise wouldn't have a home.
"Some people are moving in with [just] suitcases," Tori Lyon told PIX11 News. "Others are coming straight from the shelters with just the clothes on their backs." Lyon is the executive director of the Jericho Project. The veterans' apartment building is her brainchild, and after years of networking, lobbying and planning, what she had envisioned for vets is becoming a reality.
New York City has some 20,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone. Many of them are in the Bronx, and some of them had no place to call home, until Fordham Village was built.
They still don't quite have homes, by the way -- the building on East 194th Street three blocks west of Fordham University's main campus won't be open to residents until mid-June -- but for the veterans served by the facility, being this close is good enough.
"I like to see this as a launchpad to help people move forward," Omar Domenech said. He is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and has been decorated with the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in those conflicts. Now, though, as the on-site social worker for Fordham Village residents, he will help vets overcome the many challenges they face. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, brain injuries and alcohol they may use to cope," Domenech said. He points out that by having him and three other social workers connected to the facility, he hopes the residents will have the help they need to get on with life.
"There's also a career counselor [here]," Domenech told PIX11 News, "and a computer lab, a laundry room, wi-fi." The state-of-art facility is set up to promote residents going forward will jobs, schedules and stability.
Prentiss Donaldson, 27, will be one of the residents at Fordham Village. Even though she does not have a history of mental illness or drug abuse, she says that the home will help her get on her feet as well after she lost her apartment in a rental scam run by her former landlord.
Donaldson is an Army Reserve medical assistant who is studying to get her Master's Degree in psychology. She's among the 40% of future residents who are low income. The other 60% are homeless or substance abusers. Donaldson says that Fordham Village's low rent enables her to spend her resources elsewhere, while serving as a resource for fellow residents.
"To have other people around who know what you've gone through means a lot," Donaldson told PIX11 News from the Lt. Roscoe Brown Community Room of Fordham Village. It's named in honor of a pilot with the famed Tuskeegee Airmen of World War II, who is also on the Jericho Project Board of Directors.
Brown and the rest of the board worked hard to see their project to house veterans come to fruition. They say that housing vets in independent apartments costs about 1/10th of what homeless shelters cost. Their hard work continues to yield results. They have another, bigger facility for veterans under construction now.
The Jericho Project's veterans' apartment building in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx is about 20 percent larger than Fordham Village, with 76 units. It's expected to be completed in the fall.
Meanwhile, residents will move into Fordham Village the third week of June.