Once homeless veteran from Queens enlists to help former military personnel lead stable lives

Thursday, November 10, 2016 | By Lisa Colangelo

U.S. Army veteran Joseph Holliday learned that making the transition from military to civilian life is a tough one.

He struggled to find a stable job and affordable housing, ending up in a homeless shelter. But Holliday found help and has given himself a new mission — helping other veterans.

“(Being in the military) is your identity for so many years,” said Holliday, 41, who grew up in Queens and served in the Army from 1994 to 2002.

“You are used to having a certain title and living life in a certain way. It takes a lot of adjustment to be a civilian again.”

Holliday connected with HELP USA, a nonprofit that provides supportive housing for the homeless, and moved into its Hollis complex shortly after it opened in January.

He also took advantage of a new initiative between the City University of New York, HELP USA and city agencies to provide education vouchers to veterans.

He’s studying to become a peer specialist and has applied to programs at several CUNY schools.

Holliday, who worked for several years as a chef, said he wants a more rewarding career.

“I joined the military to make a difference,” he said. “I want to work with people and not just make a dish and send it to the window.”

In less than a year, the nonprofit has helped about a dozen formerly homeless veterans jump start their education.

Some have taken courses for certification in plumbing, home inspection and culinary skills while applying for college courses.

“This program helps them increase their income and access employment through educational opportunities,” said Jahmila Vincent, program director at HELP Hollis Apartments, which has 120 units, including 80 apartments for homeless veterans.

“People are really interested in entering the workforce. We want to make sure they don’t return to shelters or the streets,” Vincent said.

Franklyn Ramos, a former Marine, was living with his wife under the boardwalk in Rockaway but was “displaced” by Hurricane Sandy.

“There was too much fighting in the shelters,” said Ramos, who served in the Marine Corps from 1979 to 1983. “It wasn’t safe.”

The couple was referred to HELP’s Hollis apartments where Ramos saw the CUNY voucher program. “I jumped on it,” he said.

He took classes at Baruch College to be certified as a home inspector and plans to continue his studies.

“I like architecture and structural engineering,” Ramos said. “So I want to see how that plays out.”

This article was published in the November 11th edition of the New York Daily News, and is available online at www.nydailynews.com.