Event set to help homeless veterans

NASHUA – In March 2017, city officials declared that homelessness among military veterans in the area had been “effectively ended.” However, the next day, three more veterans turned up looking for housing.

“Homelessness doesn’t just end,” said Andrea Reed, a program manager for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. “Every year, there are any number of veterans coming home … (but) we act fast and are efficient in getting our veterans into housing.”

She said what was meant when officials declared veteran homelessness “ended” was that when the “point in time” count rolled around, there were no homeless veterans on the streets. The problem could be considered “handled” because the city has enough resources to quickly provide them shelter and services, thanks largely to Harbor Homes.

A veteran can become homeless for any number of reasons, Reed said.

“There’s always a conflict in Iraq … sometimes, they’re injured in boot camp and have trauma from that because they feel like they’ve failed. Sometimes, they’ve been home for a while, but the trauma occurs years later,” she said.

Reed also said there are times when a veteran will feel like he or she has become a burden on their family and simply leave.

Veterans make up 10 percent of the nation’s homeless population, according to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, but the numbers seem to be improving.

“Since 2009, veteran homelessness has dropped considerably, with 45 percent fewer veterans experiencing homelessness in 2017 than in 2009,” the report stated.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data compiled in 2015, New Hampshire had 112,790 veterans, 171 of whom were homeless.

However, Reed, who organizes the Stand Down for Homeless Veterans, still has between 120-150 homeless veterans attend the event each year to get access to services.

While U.S. Army veteran Michael Scardina never attended the Stand Down as someone looking for help, he is no stranger to Harbor Homes and their services.

When Scardina left the military in 2013, he had a hard time adjusting back to civilian life, he said, and was struggling with substance abuse. He said he lived in a tent in the woods for much of 2015.

“I felt lost,” Scardina said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

That’s when officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs introduced him to Harbor Homes and he met Reed.

Within little time, he was in a transitional housing unit and just days later, was hired by the organization. A few years later, Scardina is a case manager for other homeless veterans.

While it is now easier to identify some of the people who may need help, he said, there is still “quite a way to go” in ending homelessness among veterans. This, is part of why the Stand Down is important, not just because of the food and clothing donations or the free haircuts, but the access it gives the veterans to resources and services, Scardina said.

The 12th annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans is not until September, but organizers are already busy with preparations.

The “one stop shop” connects veterans with Veterans Affairs and other agencies to learn about available service, as well as get them access to resources such as health screenings, housing, employment and substance use disorder treatment.

The event is specifically for homeless veterans who are not already receiving some of their services, Reed emphasized.

This “community undertaking” is seeking additional funding, donations and volunteers to help run the event.

“Members of the community are … encouraged to donate or organize drives for boots, gloves, clothes, blankets, hygiene products, non-perishable food, backpacks and gas cards – and even donating used cars to help veterans get to work,” organizers said in a statement. Local professionals are asked to offer volunteer services such as legal advice, haircuts or even apprenticeships.

This year’s event will be 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at Harbor Homes’ new Administration Building, located at 77 Northeastern Blvd.

Anyone interested in volunteering or offering services should contact Andrea Reed at a.reed@nhparternship.org.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.