Helping Homeless Vets

By State Senator Bill Diamond

Homelessness is a major problem for veterans throughout this country, and Maine is no exception.

Exact figures are hard to come by, but there are estimated to be between 300 and 500 homeless veterans at any one time in Maine, and over the course of a year up to a thousand Maine veterans may be homeless. We owe our veterans a great debt. They are people who have been willing to put their lives on the line for our country and our freedom, and we as a people, have an obligation to do all we can for them.

Recognizing that it is disgraceful for these brave people to be homeless, I want Maine to lead the nation in eliminating homelessness among our veterans. To accomplish this I have submitted a bill, “An Act to End Homelessness for Maine's Military Veterans.” The purpose is to provide immediate shelter for all Maine military veterans — we cannot tolerate our veterans being homeless. I propose working with the Volunteers of America and the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services to help identify homeless veterans and veterans in danger of becoming homeless and get them into some sort of temporary housing. This could be done either through shelters or getting them vouchers for hotels.

The initial stage of identifying these veterans is critical. One of the best ways this is done now is through an event called a “stand down.” This is an annual event held at the VA at Togus in the fall for homeless vets. Word goes out through homeless shelters and churches and usually about 70-80 veterans come to this event. They get haircuts, hot showers, good meals, clean clothes, and even have a chance to see a dentist. It is basically an opportunity to get these folks hooked up with services if they desire it, and get them outfitted for the winter.

Even though there are vans to transport the veterans to the stand down, most come from relatively near Togus. One of the things I’m proposing is more frequent stand downs and holding them throughout the state. In this way, we can bring the services to them, and get them the kind of help they need, either with any physical or mental problems they may have or to help them get a job if that is what they need.  These stand downs have been found to be particularly helpful with veterans, because there are often issues of pride that can prevent them from seeking services through traditional channels. Veterans are more comfortable going in the company of fellow veterans in similar circumstances.

Maine is a tough place to be homeless, and this is a group of people who have risked much on our behalf.  I feel that getting them into appropriate housing is the least we can do for them.

Remember, if there is anything I can do for you in Augusta, or there is anything I can help you with, you can call my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website, www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis as Senator of District 12.

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