New Hyde Park native Matthew Simoni’s life fell apart after serving in the elite U.S. Naval Group.
He lived behind a convenience store in Virginia Beach, sometimes sleeping in trash cans and in the woods, and was homeless for a year and a half.
Now, 37, Simoni is rebuilding his life and helping other struggling veterans do the same. He and his wife started an organization in Bayshore to track homeless veterans from Long Island and get them to help with everything from jobs to meals to mental health counseling.
new documentary subject
Simoni and his wife Jade Pinto’s work is also the subject of a new documentary about The Forgotten Heroes of Long Island, produced by a Glen Cove-based film production company.
What you need to know
- Navy veteran who was homeless for over a year founded a nonprofit in Bayshore to help other homeless veterans get back on track.
- Matthew Simoni says he has already found 40 veterans living in the woods.on streets or other outdoor areas in only one section of Suffolk County
- Glen Cove-based film production company to produce documentary Document the work of Simoni and his wife called ‘Long Island’s Forgotten Heroes’
Veterans are “the men and women who fought for our great nation,” says Simoni, of a nonprofit called Bravo Foxtrot Veterans Inc. they forgot. ”
Instead of waiting for veterans to come to him in the office, Simoni said he decided to go to veterans. He started at a train station and eventually ended up at a veterans’ camp in the woods.
Last year, he said, he found about 40 veterans living in woods, train stations and other outdoor locations from West Babylon to Patchogue and further north to Wydanchi and Brentwood. There are probably hundreds of people living outdoors across Long Island, he said.
“We know this epidemic exists across Long Island, across New York State, and across the country,” said Simoni, who is also a group that helps veterans living in homeless shelters.
33,000 homeless veterans in the US
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that approximately 33,000 veterans nationwide are homeless.
Many homeless veterans are traumatized by their service, killing people or watching others die, including combat comrades, and find it difficult to return to their homes. said Simoni.
One veteran in the film, Tyrone James of Brooklyn, describes how an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated in Iraq and shredded the commander’s body. James had to pick up his body parts and put them in the bag.
He hasn’t been the same since then, James said.
“I think about it. I have nightmares. I go through it every day,” he says in the film. “I’m still back there.”
“But what I’m trying to do is,” he continues. And I never asked anyone for sympathy. ”
Many veterans like James come home confused and unsure where to go for help because they struggle with issues like addiction, mental illness, PTSD and poverty, Simoni said. .
veterinarian donates services
Since he founded his group last year, it has won the support of senior Suffolk County legislators, as well as lawyers and fellow veterans who donate their services and time.
Gary Teich, owner of an auto repair shop in East Islip, and his son Matthew donated camouflage-painted minibuses to transport veterans to their assignments.
Suffolk County Council deputy chairman Stephen Flotteron said Suffolk has more veterans than any other county in the state, and a significant number have failed to readjust after returning from the battlefield. said.
Flotteron, who connects Simoni’s group with local businesses and government agencies, says Simoni has a special ability to reach out to veterans homeless.
“He knows how to leave the main road at night, go into the woods behind the store, and talk to them because he himself has slept in a trash can,” Flotteron said.
“He has charisma and strength,” added Flotteron.
On a recent afternoon, Simoni and his wife visited a rehabilitation center in Massapequa. Here, a former homeless Vietnam veteran is now recovering.
They brought advice on how to obtain legal assistance to obtain medical benefits related to clothing, food, and services for Richard Shropshire.
“I’m about to cry,” 74-year-old Shropshire said with a warm smile.
Simoni and Pinto then venture into the woods near Sunrise Highway in West Babylon, where they meet another veteran, Freddie Miller, 43. and one year off.
The couple also helped Miller get medical help.
According to Miller, life in the woods was “terrifying,” with constant noise from cars a few feet away and raccoons descending on his property every night.
“I know we could be back here soon,” he said. “I literally live on the skin of my teeth.”
10 years in the navy
Simoni’s work with veterans has taken a circuitous route. After his high school, he attended his community college in Nassau, after which he got a job in construction, but he was hungry for more work.
“I wanted to do something great with my life,” he said.
So Simoni joined the army. He was promoted to Virginia Beach’s leading Naval Special Warfare Development Group and assisted SEALs in their covert missions.
During his 10-year career from 2006 to 2016, Simoni said he has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Libya, Kenya and other countries.
But by the time he left the hospital, he was suffering from PTSD and other ailments, Simoni said. He lost five construction jobs in six months. Simoni’s life fell apart.
By 2018, he was back on Long Island, where he still has relatives. Soon after, in Islip he met the tattoo artist Pinto. She encouraged him to seek therapy and use other holistic approaches such as meditation and whole foods instead of prescription drugs. I helped him realize that it would help him heal.
Eventually, they formed Bravo Foxtrot together – she’s the vice president.
They connect homeless veterans to agencies that offer things like preparing for job interviews, writing resumes, and even obtaining suitable clothing such as suits and ties.
Assistance to veterinarians
They have helped former homeless veterans find jobs at Bayshore’s Huntington Hospital and Southside University Hospital.
A veterinarian who lived in the woods for years was able to win a VA lawsuit for disability payments and bought a condo in Levittown, Simoni said. Other veterans, including James, have landed permanent or temporary affordable rental housing that the group helped arrange.
Simoni’s minor surgery hasn’t received official funding — he said he’s funding it from VA disability payments and Pinto’s earnings as a tattoo artist.
Eight months ago, the couple teamed up with a local filmmaker to produce a documentary aimed at drawing attention to the plight of homeless veterans. Tevin Foster and Julius Capio of Glen Cove-based Hazy Sun Production took Simoni and Pinto to the woods, social services offices, and more.
The film premiered at the Bayway Arts Center in East Islip on October 20th.
Foster, 28, of Brentwood, said, “It was amazing to go to the woods and see people who have been living there for years.”
Last spring, he said, authorities or landlords invaded some areas, driving veterans out and sometimes bulldozing their encampments.
“Just being kicked out of the woods is kind of shocking,” said Foster. “It’s like they’re already homeless and kicked out of where they’re staying.”