Struggling CT veterans get new advocate

Photo of Brian Gioiele

Homes for the Brave, which includes a residence named for Wilton’s Nick Madaras, has a new advocate.

Robert Kozlowsky, a Shelton police lieutenant and nearly 20-year veteran of the force, was recently named board chair of Homes for the Brave, the Bridgeport-based operation that has served more than 1,200 homeless men and women, mostly veterans, with housing, vocational training and life skills coaching.

“This has become a passion for me,” said Kozlowsky.

Homes for the Brave, which opened in 2002, is a 42-bed transitional housing program available to male veterans and non-veterans who are homeless with a staff focusing on helping every individual achieve goals for housing, employment and independent living.

The main facility is at 655 Park Avenue in Bridgeport, where residents have access to a fully stocked kitchen, laundry room, computer lab, social meeting areas, and even fitness memberships at the Cardinal Shehan Center. Each resident may live on-site for two years and assists with daily chores.

Alongside their assigned case managers and vocational specialists, residents establish goals in the areas of housing, income and self-determination. In addition, based on the individual’s needs, they will also attend living skills classes, preemployment workshops, and computer classes. If residents cannot work, the staff encourages them to find volunteer and other meaningful opportunities in the community.

Overall, Homes for the Brave has three residences. The other two —the Waldorf Supportive Housing Program and the Nicholas A. Madaras Home —are also in Bridgeport. The Waldorf Supportive Housing Program, which opened in July 2005, is a three-story residence that provides nine units of permanent housing with case management services.

The Nicholas A. Madaras Home is the state’s first and only community-based transitional home exclusively for homeless female veterans and their young children. It is named for the Wilton High School graduate who lost his life in Iraq while serving in the U.S. Army. It’s construction was spearheaded by his parents Shalini and Bill Madaras of Wilton and it has served more than 100 women and children since opening in 2011.

“This is the best place, the model,” Kozlowsky said of Homes for the Brave. “We see it is working, but when it comes to funding, we’re not getting the funding.”

Kozlowsky said when he first joined the board, some 75 percent of the budget was from state and federal funds. Now that number has dipped less than 50 percent, according to Kozlowsky, “and we have had certain funds just disappear, not due to performance, but just from cuts. Now we’re at a point where tough decisions, including not filling certain positions, have had to be made.”

The loss of state and federal funding has forced the board to reach out to individuals and corporations to maintain the program, all while forming a strategic plan for attempting to recapture some of the lost state and federal funds.

“We need to make up the funding gaps and keep the success stories going,” said Kozlowsky, “and that is my job. There is a real difference being made right down here. This is not permanent housing. We are teaching them to live independently in society.”

From simple activities, such as cooking and doing laundry, to more intense tasks, such as using a computer, preparing resumes and learning how to sit for an interview for employment, Kozlowsky said Homes for the Brave is a one-stop place for helping struggling veterans to get back on their feet in a dignified fashion.

Kozlowsky began considering aiding nonprofit groups in 2015, after taking the Leadership Greater Valley class through the Valley United Chamber of Commerce. And after volunteering time at several, he said he found Homes for the Brave and spent time serving dinner to the veterans who use the location.

“It was a much different experience,” said Kozlowsky. “There was such a positive vibe here.”

Kozlowsky said he spoke to board members at that time, offering to participate if a board position ever opening. One month later, Kozlowsky was officially a board member, and now four years later, he now chairs that board.

“Rob brings an immense amount of dedication,” said Homes for the Brave Executive Director/CEO Vincent Santilli. “He has connections all over the Valley and in New York, and he is not shy about getting people involved in helping our male and female veterans, and that’s exactly what we need. He has so much energy and vigor. He’s a huge blessing for us and to us.”

And Kozlowsky’s vision is to keep the success stories going.

"I inherited a great program,” said Kozlowsky. “It’s about getting the word about what everyone does here to help our veterans who are struggling. We are local. It is just us. We are not part of a national organization. Our offices are with the residents. We are here. We are local. We take veterans from all over, not just Connecticut.

“This is not just a place to sleep,” added Kozlowsky. “They volunteered, they served their country, for all of us, and now they are on hard times. Now is the time for us to step up and help them. That is what we do here. This is a special place.”