Promoting personalized help to the hungry and the homeless.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Formerly Homeless Vets Help Currently Homeless Vets
CONCORD, Mass. (AP) — Not far from where the Boston Massacre helped
sow the seeds for the Revolutionary War, David Dyer points toward the
underpass where he'd score crack cocaine by day and the train depot
where he'd sleep some nights.
Now, he has a family, a home and a job — helping homeless veterans get off the streets, like he did.
Dyer is part of a team of veterans, some formerly homeless
themselves, that the state of Massachusetts has hired to get veterans
off the streets in the Boston area. Typically, they spend one day a week
roaming the city's storefronts, alleys and shelters, which is what he
was doing one recent morning outside Boston's South Station. "I guess
you could call this my home for about a month," he reminisced.
The rest of the week is spent making sure those who have found
housing are staying the course. The Veterans Affairs Department, which
funds the effort, is considering doubling the size of the team in the
President Barack Obama's administration has pledged to eliminate
homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. And while the rate has
been dropping, time is running short.
So communities such as Boston are aggressively hitting the streets
with offers of housing, treatment and hope. Using formerly homeless
veterans such as Dyer and team leader Christopher Doyle helps them make
inroads with a community that often is distrustful of people who haven't
experienced what they've been through.
"When they say, 'Oh, you don't know what I'm talking about,' I can
say, 'Yeah, I do, because I was there myself,'" said Doyle, who at one
point lived in a VA homeless shelter with about 180 other veterans
before landing a job with the state.
James Harrington appears to be one of the program's success stories.
estimates that he was homeless for nearly a dozen years. At first, he
said, he lived in vacant apartment complexes that were under
construction. Then he spent most of his nights at Logan International
He arrived at his new one-bedroom apartment in February with nothing but his door keys and a backpack.
It took him about a month to get used to the feeling that he could stay — if he wanted to.
"You're so used to living so many years in someone else's domain,"
said Harrington, 66, an Army veteran who served stateside during the
Vietnam War. "There was this expectation that someone's going to be
coming through the door because they really own the place that you're
Harrington takes great pride in turning his new apartment into a
home. He found a couple of Ethan Allan end tables that neighbors were
going to throw away. Carly Brown, a VA social worker, drove him to a
local furniture bank where he picked out a sofa and a bed. And Doyle
chipped in as well, giving him an RCA television. Now just look at the
place, Harrington beams.
"Where are you going to find something better than this?" said Harrington. "You're not."
A voucher from the federal government pays $981 of the veteran's
monthly rent. He uses his Social Security and a VA pension to pay
another $221 himself.
Doyle checks on him weekly to make sure he's OK. "I sometimes just
talk to him about the last movie he watched," Doyle said. "It's to show I
have an interest in his life."
Doyle said he believes that regular visits from a fellow veteran make
it harder for his clients to give up and go back to their old life.
"It's easy to put someone into an apartment, but it's not as easy to
keep them in one," Doyle said. "A lot of these guys do have mental
health issues or substances abuse issues. Sometimes, that's the reason
they do the right thing because they know I'm going to come see them."
The federal government estimates that the homeless rate among
veterans has dropped by about 25 percent in the past three years, but
nearly 58,000 veterans remain on the streets or in temporary shelters on
any given night.
"I have said from the beginning, the climb will get steeper the
closer we get to the summit," Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki
said earlier this year in Washington. "All the easy cases will have been
housed. In the end, we will have the toughest, most difficult cases to
solve — some prior failures, some behavioral problems, even some serious
mental health issues."
VA officials point to Boston as a model for what can be done when
local and federal organizations work together. Their focus is to get
chronically homeless veterans into a house or apartment as soon as
possible instead of putting them into temporary or emergency shelters
for months at a time. Then, once the vet gets into a house, officials
arrange the support services the veteran will need to stay there, such
as substance abuse counseling and job training. Typically, the federal
government pays most of the cost for the home through a voucher. Local
officials and nonprofits also help coordinate the support services that
are, again, mostly paid for through the VA.
"When you put housing as the priority, the treatment and everything
else comes along in a much more effective way because they're getting
their most basic needs met first," said Vincent Kane, director of the
National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, which conducts policy
analysis and research. "They're not worried where their next meal is
coming from or what roof will be over their head that night."
To estimate the number of homeless veterans, the federal government
relies on an annual count that takes place in January. Thousands of
volunteers, government employees and nonprofit workers search their
local streets, parks and shelters in an effort to count the number of
homeless people. The latest count in Boston estimated 458 homeless vets
on any given night in 2013, a drop of 15 percent over the past three
years. That's not as steep as the national drop, but VA officials in
Massachusetts said that's partly because their outreach efforts have
helped them find homeless people who previously would have gone
Kane said veterans are key members of its homeless outreach teams in
communities such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit and Denver.
Doyle and Dyer met each other at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Doyle, who served in the Army during the first Gulf War, overheard Dyer
speaking about his experiences in Afghanistan and decided to approach
him and offer a friendly ear.
Dyer had drug problems before he entered the Army. After his discharge, Dyer said, his drug use intensified.
"It's just so much easier to use, you think, because you've totally
given up on yourself," he said. "You've given up on life. You're pretty
much pissed that you woke up."
His health went downhill and he eventually was hospitalized with
kidney failure. He woke up to find his father sitting next to his bed.
Dyer said he saw how badly he was hurting his family and resolved that
his spiral was over.
Doyle, meanwhile, kept tabs on Dyer's progress and eventually asked
him to join the veterans' homeless team. Dyer said the job helps him
stick with his recovery.
"If you're not out there helping somebody, the chances of staying in
recovery and staying clean, really, aren't that good," he said. "I found
that out personally."
Most of the team's clients have drug and alcohol issues that require
counseling and treatment. Harrington said he's never had a problem with
drugs or alcohol and said his problems were financial. He said in recent
years he spent most of his nights at the airport. At dawn, he'd head
over to the Boston Public Library.
One night, an airport worker brought in a social worker from the VA
to talk to him. The VA helped him get a pension to supplement his Social
Security. It also helped him land a government voucher. He marveled at
the support he's received.
"They had a whole team of support people, like, if you need
furniture, they get you furniture. If you need food, they'll bring food
to you," Harrington said.
But other cases are much tougher — the chronic homeless that Shinseki referred to.
At Boston's Emmanuel Church, Bryant Draycott says he's been told he
is No. 5 on the list to get a government voucher that would let him live
in an apartment. The Navy veteran said he'll take help, but only on his
"I'm the vet. They're not," he said. "You want to give me a room? You
want to give me an apartment? OK, I'll stay there for at least a couple
of days. I'll give it a try for a week. If I don't like it, I'll tell
you what you can do with it."
And another thing, don't use the word homeless in his presence.
"To me, personally, I hate that word. I refuse to use the term homeless. With me, I'm on vacation."
Draycott estimates that he's been on vacation for about eight years.
"And loving every minute of it," he said.
Then there's Thomas Moore, 79, who has no interest in getting a
government-subsidized apartment. He said he was willing to accept a
blanket from the social workers who visit him, but when they broach the
idea of housing, "I try in a kind way to back off."
He demonstrates just how difficult it will be for the Obama
administration to reach its goal, despite all the assurances that it's
on track. Sitting on the sidewalk a block from Boston's most luxurious
shopping boutiques, Moore described having a "nervous breakdown" as a
17-year-old serving on the front lines in Korea. He said he feels
responsible for the death of his best friend during one firefight and
spent months afterward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
He said he underwent numerous shock treatments.
When he gets tired of living on the street, he said, he'll rent a cheap hotel room for a month.
"There's something about the rough edge of living out here that distracts me from my inner life," Moore said.
Despite Moore's insistence that he doesn't want their help, the
veterans' homeless team doesn't plan to quit asking him if he's changed
"You don't know when it's going to be that day when somebody says I'm done living like this and accepts the help," Dyer said.
- authored by Kevin Freking
- published by HuffPost Impact
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Save the Children is on the ground, helping to keep children safe, providing the basics they need, like food and blankets and offering programs to help them cope with tragedy. However, the numbers of children escaping the violence are rising every day, and the refugee crisis is set to get worse. They can use help in helping. Read children's first-hand stories at their website.
For more ways to help, an ongoing update, and new opportunities to assist as they arise, check the Syrian American website on a regular basis.
16 million Pakistanis are desperate for help, and one young college student, Wajeeha, and her classmates have taken a journey to help them. Read about their plans (now fulfilled) here: Come Along on a Journey to Help Pakistan One Family at a Time. Thank you to the readers of 100th Lamb who contributed to this effort. More help is needed in Pakistan. In addition to Wajeeha's project, two helping organizations through whom you can contribute are Catholic Relief (for people needs) and World Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (for creature needs).
The "H2H Challenge" asks those who care to go beyond throwing money at the hungry and homeless and instead of giving a handout only, get to know them, give them dignity, and provide them with respect, to follow the example set by St. Francis in eating together with the outcasts of society (in his case, mostly lepers) and through getting to know them in this manner, treating them as the same children of God that we all are, no less worthy of love and kindness than ourselves. Specifically:
Invite someone who is homeless and hungry to dinner once a month. (More often, if you can afford it, is, of course, wonderfully fine!) Get to know that person one-on-one.
You can report on your experiences, if you would like to do so here, by leaving a comment on any related post.Or, if you would like to write a post about it, contact me (Elizabeth.Mahlou@gmail.com).
You might want to donate money, goods, or time to one of the organizations that help the homeless and hungry. There are some in every community. Your location church or chamber of commerce can tell you where they are. I am listing below those that come to my attention as being unusual in what they offer and those that are really in need of financial support (many have fallen into this category during this Great Recession).
I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism,
I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).
100th Lamb This is my main blog. It originated from my book by the same title but has morphed into a blog that explores the spiritual questions I encounter as I careen through a life with many children and in many states and countries, meeting many very interesting and wonderfully diverse people.
The Clan of Mahlou. This blog provides background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family; it is a work in progress since the lives of Mahlou clan members continue to march forward. This blog also contains my conversion story.
Mahlou Musings. This site contains excerpts from my various publications. The tiger is a representation of my spirit and life.
Modern Mysticism This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is addressed to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.