Awards honor those who assist veterans, provide homes
The award for Michael Guty Homeless Veterans Outreach for the year 2021 was awarded to the American Legion Family of New Jersey’s  Housing Our Heroes program. The award was accepted by Bob Looby, New Jersey Employment, Homeless & Incarcerated Veteran advocate, and Dan Dunn, immediate past department commander of New Jersey. Photo by Jeric Wilhelmsen

Awards honor those who assist veterans, provide homes

For the fifth time in seven years, the American Legion Family of New Jersey’s “Housing Our Heroes” program was recognized Friday for superior performance in assisting homeless veterans.

The initiative became a priority for Bob Looby in 2010-11 when he served as department commander and realized that the state’s homeless veteran program lacked funds to provide adequate shelter and furnishings to help those who have served get back on their feet. Since then: “we’re now up to $2.5 million dedicated for the homeless – mostly shelters, furnishings – all from the the American Legion Family, the Legion posts, Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion.”

Looby borrows a phrase The American Legion is now trumpeting nationwide to reduce veteran suicide – “Be the One” – to characterize New Jersey’s commitment to helping the homeless. “A lot of people don’t even realize the plight of a lot of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “You see a homeless person on the street, even though they may have a veteran placard, and just blow them off, because some people don’t believe a veteran can be homeless. The burden is on us – no different than veteran suicide – to be the one for homelessness.” New Jersey’s program has also been recognized by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and VA.

Housing Our Heroes became especially vital for homeless veterans during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Looby said. “When others canceled stand-downs because of COVID, we re-engineered and designed mobile stand-downs where we took mobile vans to known pockets,” he explained, noting that the Legion Family in New Jersey has now conducted 17 stand-down events, to go along with multiple other activities to help veterans find good jobs, enter business or obtain resources after service.

The American Legion Veterans Employment and Education Commission presented its annual awards as part of the 103rd American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee.

Also honored were:

-     5X5 Brewing Co. of Mission, Texas, for its “exceptional record in the employment of veterans,” in the small-employer category

-       ShurMed EMS of San Antonio, Texas, for its “exceptional record” on the veteran-employment front, for medium-sized employers

-       Morris-Baker Funeral Home & Cremation Services of Johnson City, Tenn., as Outstanding Employer of Older Workers

-       Workforce Solutions/Permian Basin, of Odessa, Texas, Outstanding Employment Service Local Office of the Year for 2021

-       Grace After Fire of Houston, which focuses on increased access to health care for women veterans, as Outstanding Employer of Enhancing the Lives of Disabled persons for 2021