Noelle Swan

Dramatic Decline in Veteran Homelessness Inspires Mass. Program

In Poverty, Social Issues on January 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

This article was first published by New England Post on January 10, 2012.

Courtesy of Noah Fournier

“You’re welcome here, but ultimately we really want you to leave.”

That is the message Andrew McCawley hopes to convey to the more than 300 veterans living in transitional and emergency housing at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans (NECHV) each night. “Our emphasis is on helping folks that struggle with chronic homelessness to progress toward independent living.”

McCawley, who heads the center, served in the Navy for 27 years as an officer and aviator. He has since traded in his naval uniform for a suit and wears miniature dog tags pinned to his lapel—the symbol of the NECHV. His business card does not solely advertise the services of a shelter. Instead it reads, “Providing homeless veterans with the tools for independent living.”

The organization’s efforts (combined with those of many other area organizations) appear to be working.

New figures from the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services indicate a 21 percent reduction since January, 2011, in the number of homeless veterans living in Massachusetts, almost double the rate of decline seen nationally over that period.

“We are ending homelessness among veterans,” said Gov. Deval Patrick (D) announcing the dramatic decline at a press conference last week. “Today, thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Murray, our Department of Veterans’ Services and our federal partners, we are seeing significant progress. But we must keep going to ensure that the men and women who have served our country in uniform have access to all the benefits their service has earned them.”

Appearing with Patrick, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray (D) applauded existing services for homeless veterans and announced a federally funded pilot program to transition an additional 50 veterans into permanent housing and connect them with mental health and peer counseling services.

The $323,000 pilot program will complement programs already offered through an existing network of veterans’ services. The Department of Veterans’ Services will collaborate with NECHV, Pine Street Inn, St. Francis House, and HopeFound in Boston, the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, the Lynn Housing Authority, and Veterans’ Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill.

Every veteran comes to these programs with a unique set of circumstances. Many suffer from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder; others struggle with substance abuse, and other mental health-related issues. Some need job training and other need life skills to learn to live outside the structure of the military.

Courtesy of Noah Fournier

“No two cases are the same,” McCawley says. “There’s no one end state or single path to an end state.” The new grant will supplement more than a dozen others that fund local veterans’ organizations.

About two thirds of NECHV’s funding comes from public sources and the rest from private donations. Donations of clothing and essentials stock the center store where residents can take what they need from racks of suits for job interviews, packages of socks, long underwear, and rows of toiletries. Volunteers come in groups and as individuals to staff the lunch lines each day. And the center’s 100-year-old building in the heart of Boston recently got a facelift thanks to a crew of volunteers from Home Depot’s Aprons in Action program.

In addition to providing emergency and temporary shelter for clients, the center houses 60 veterans in permanent apartments. Residents receive meals, a mailing address, access to a laundry room, and supplies from the center store.

Any veteran, regardless of housing status, can participate in support groups, get a hot lunch, and receive job training. Staffers and volunteers assist NECHV clients in online job hunting, applying for subsidized housing, and researching educational opportunities.

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