By Melanie Grayce West
Providing housing and a support system to homeless veterans is important to Coleman Fung.
A Hong Kong native, Mr. Fung was once a supply sergeant in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany during the 1980s, before going on to start a business.
“I have a lot of respect for people who are giving up a lot to do the job that we’re asking them to do,” he says.
A few years ago, he became involved with the veterans initiative at Jericho Project, a New York-based organization with 500 units of housing for homeless families, veterans and people with substance-abuse issues.
For the 200 veterans it serves, the organization helps them access existing federal, state and local programs and services—from free legal help to medical care. The organization provides employment assistance and family counseling services, too.
“They provide all of the services,” says Mr. Fung. “To do that, you have to get private support because the state and city government they just don’t have the resources to add those kind of job training programs or other types of counseling resources. To me, that was really critical and so I fell in love with the effort.”
To support Jericho Project’s work with veterans, Mr. Fung has given the organization a challenge gift of $500,000 to bolster fund-raising. He also serves as a member of the organization’s Veterans Advisory Council.
He is the founder and chairman of Long Island-based software company OpenLink and chief executive and co-founder of Blue Goji, an Austin, Texas-based lifestyle company.
One of his concerns as he has become more involved in the issue is that veterans aren’t provided with “conducive means to integrate back into society,” he says.
“A simple truth is that among the homeless population the veteran group is overly represented,” says Mr. Fung. “Doesn’t that tell you something? To me, that is not fair.”
Though no one knows the exact number, Tori Lyon, Jericho Project’s executive director, says that there are 1,200 to 3,000 homeless veterans on any given night in New York City.
About five years ago, she began to notice an increase in younger veterans needing shelter. Additionally, Ms. Lyon says, “there are untold thousands living doubled-up and at a high risk of homelessness.”
In response to that, the Jericho Project’s latest residence in the Bronx, which will celebrate its opening on Monday, will be exclusively for low-income and homeless veterans, with priority given to soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The organization will open a similar building later this year.
Ms. Lyon says that the need for veterans housing is large. The newest veterans-only building has 56 apartments. Ms. Lyon says that they received more than 160 applications “and they are still coming in.”