Bipartisan Proposal Would Re-Purpose Vacant ‘Zombie Homes’ For Homeless Veterans

NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — On the eve of Veteran’s Day, is there a solution to two pressing problems?

A new bi-partisan proposal suggests that both nationwide dilemmas could be solved with a new initiative.

For Kawame Williams, life after seven years in the army has been a different kind of battle.

“Things went downhill for me very fast. I found myself very depressed and in a psych ward,” Williams told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

The 24-year-old has electric skills and a an associate’s degree, but couldn’t find a job and landed in a homeless shelter for veterans.

An estimated 50,000 veterans make up about 1/10 of America’s homeless population.

“Just one veteran that is homeless is one too many, and our programs we are finding that there are more and more that are still homeless,” Greta Guarton, LI Coalition for The Homeless said.

Now, there is a single possible solution for two persistent problems.

“To turn zombie homes into decent housing for our heroes, our veterans,” Congressman Steve Israel (D) New York, said.

Israel has what he called a game changer. A bipartisan, Federal proposal to re-purpose vacant eyesores abandoned in foreclosure that have suburban neighbors, fighting for years, at their wit’s end.

“We pay so much in taxes and every day we have to pass that and it’s unfair,” Porzia DiGiordio said.

Governments have tried everything to combat the zombie epidemic, spending millions in clean up and demolitions.

So can re-purposing work?

It’s already beginning in Suffolk county.

Expanding nationwide would require a $25-million grant to veterans’ organizations to buy and renovate zombie homes.

Veterans would need more job training and placement to be able to pay a portion of the cost back.

“I just want to get on with my life, and being homeless is not my idea of getting on with my life,” Williams said.

Neighbors said they would welcome a veteran planting roots where weeds now grow.

“You feel good when you can help somebody like that. They’ve done so much,” Gina Raio Bitsimis said.

The legislation will be introduced in Congress next week. Sponsors will argue that it’s an obligation when we bring the troops home to ensure that they have a home.

Long Island has 4,000 so-called zombie homes that, while in foreclosure, are not maintained by the homeowner or the lender.

It can take years for the foreclosure process to wind its way through the banks and courts.

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