Winter is here, and as temperatures drop, we are reminded of the harsh reality that more than 100 Maine veterans do not have a place to call home. While the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services and our many partners are doing everything possible to locate permanent housing for veterans in need, we need the community’s help.

On a brisk November day, MBVS Homeless Veteran Coordinator Jarad Greeley received a tip about a small camp in the woods of rural Maine. Knowing the camp’s inhabitants were likely veterans, a concerned Mainer had contacted MBVS for help. The intel was accurate: veterans were living in tents.

Many factors contribute to a veteran becoming homeless. It is a complex problem escalated by poverty, unemployment, mental/physical health, addiction, breakdowns in the family and, oftentimes, unaffordable housing. As a state agency, it is our mission to provide a line of communication between veterans and needed services, but we cannot make those connections if a veteran does not ask for help.

For most veterans, giving is easier than receiving. That has been the norm — but it doesn’t have to be. We encourage Maine’s veterans to ask for the services they have earned and deserve, and for their friends and family to please speak up for them. The need for communal support doesn’t go away when they leave service, and there are organizations standing ready and committed to offering the hand-up that is needed to get them back on their feet.

Easter Seals Maine, Preble Street’s Veterans Housing Services, Veterans Inc., VA Maine Healthcare System, Volunteers of America Northern New England, Maine State Housing Authority and others work together to get veterans the help that is needed. If one organization isn’t able to provide assistance, they will connect veterans with another.

Mayors across Maine have also signed on to the Mayor’s Challenge, an interagency initiative that calls on cities, counties and states to commit to ending and preventing homelessness among veterans. So far, Auburn, Augusta, Bangor, Brewer, Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland and Westbrook have joined the initiative.

Many of these agencies are operated by veterans who have assisted other veterans with similar experiences. A few have even found themselves in similar circumstances. The path to becoming homeless is different for everyone and no story we hear is the same. If a veteran is experiencing homelessness or is at risk of becoming homeless in the future, they should reach out to us. We will help them find shelter and services.

MBVS staff is often asked, “How can I help?” from members of the public and veterans who are looking to serve their communities in a different capacity. If anyone knows a veteran who is struggling, share our contact information with them. If we can’t directly help, we can connect them with someone who can. Pproperty owners who have units available might consider leasing to a veteran. Eradicating veteran homelessness takes deliberate effort by us all and knowing where to ask for help is the first step.

If you do one thing to help homeless veterans today, please consider watching and sharing the link to a video — https://www.maine.gov/veterans/highlights/Veterans-Homelessness-Resources.html — about the partnerships that have been made across the state of Maine, and how those established connections have helped our veterans. But don’t just take our word for it; in the video, you will meet John Randall, a Maine veteran who received a permanent home at Cabin in the Woods after reaching out and asking for help. As John’s story illustrates, home provides safety, security, stability and peace of mind. When one has a place to rest their head at night, overall health is improved both physically and mentally, and it allows for services to be received.

At the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, we will always be committed to serving our veterans and their families. There’s no wrong door to knock on when asking for help; but asking for help is the first critical step in changing the path of homelessness.

For more information about the bureau or to request assistance, call us at 207-430-6035, email [email protected] or visit www.maine.gov/veterans.

David Richmond is director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, located in Augusta.


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