When Bed-Stuy native Jerry Cruz, 40, left the military after serving on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Iraq, he returned to Brooklyn a changed man.
“Different mood swings and things like that. I don’t understand it, the voices,” he said. “It’s been a long road. Very stressful, very lonely, depressing, a lot of anger.”
Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and unable to find a job, he bounced around for a few months between his relative’s already crowded apartments.
“Transitioning was not easy,” he said. “At first I thought it was gonna be really smooth, everyone was gonna accept me with open arms.”
Instead, Cruz became part of growing wave of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who find themselves sleeping in cars, on friends couches, and increasingly, in homeless shelters.
When his relatives’ patience ran out, Cruz landed on the street.
“I was in hallways, hotels, underneath the boardwalk, on top of the boardwalk,” he said. “Just sleeping everywhere, just to survive.”
Cruz spent the next three and a half years on the street and in shelters across the city. Nine months ago, he moved into his own apartment with the help of the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and a Brooklyn-based veterans organization, Black Veterans for Social Justice.
With their help, Cruz was issued a subsidized housing voucher through an new federal initiative to combat homelessness among veterans.
Run jointly by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH) began in 2007 and has helped more than 650 veterans move into their own apartments in New York City.