Eddy Masten, a veteran who has struggled with homelessness on and off for around two decades, watches television with his dog, Maggie. He recently found a studio apartment in Old Town through Preble Street and the Maine VA’s “No Homeless Veterans” program, which aims to house 100 veterans by Saturday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

OLD TOWN — Using a pillow as a backrest, Eddy Masten settled into a comfortable position on the mattress he’d placed in a corner of his studio apartment.

He took a sip of off-brand soda from a 2-liter bottle and patted the space next to him. “Up,” he commanded his service dog, Maggie, who, moving slowly at age 13, stepped onto the bed and curled up next to him. He smiled and gave her an affectionate head scratch.

Masten, 64, became a mechanic for the U.S. Navy when he was around 18 and served for just as many months. He had signed up for six years, but after his close friend was hit by a car and died in his arms, the Navy discharged him.

He has since struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, chronic pain and on-and-off homelessness.

He relocated from Virginia to Maine this summer hoping to connect with old friends in St. Albans. Unable to find them, he lived in a shelter in Bangor for around a month before Preble Street, a nonprofit social services organization in Portland, helped him find a 200-square foot studio in nearby Old Town.

Masten is one of thousands of veterans who are or have been homeless.


Tracking the homeless population in the U.S. is difficult, but on one night each year, outreach workers across the country set out to take an annual count. Of the 582,000 homeless people in the country last year, more than 33,000 (7%) were veterans staying in emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, transitional housing programs or sleeping on the street, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s point-in-time count.

In Maine, nearly 250 of the state’s 4,411 homeless residents were veterans.

Veteran homelessness is a persistent problem. But while the general homeless population in the U.S. has grown in recent years, veteran homelessness has shrunk by more than half over the past decade.

Eddy Masten, a veteran who has struggled with homelessness on and off for around two decades, gives the “thumbs up” at his apartment building in Old Town. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The reason behind these divergent trends is clear.

“There are far more resources available to homeless veterans compared to other homeless people,” said Ann Oliva, the CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Vast amounts of resources, along with strong policy and social and political support, have allowed nonprofits, all levels of government and everyone else working to end homelessness to make more strides with veterans – who represent only a small portion of all homeless people – than with many other segments of the homeless population.


Masten, too, acknowledged this.

“I’m thankful I’m a veteran. Otherwise I would probably still be homeless,” he said.

Those who work with homeless veterans say the progress they’ve made shows what could be done for the entire population if they had sufficient funding.

“It’s really great to have the resources necessary to do the work,” said Laura Clark, director of veterans housing services at Preble Street. “It’s just amazing to see what we can do to raise people out of poverty.”


Between 2009 – the year HUD started tracking the veteran homeless population – and 2022, veteran homelessness fell by 55%.


The general homeless population has followed a different path. The number of homeless people decreased between 2009 and 2017, but by a lower rate: less than 13%. After that, the population started to grow – up 5% by 2022 – but it has begun to plateau recently, possibly because of pandemic-era programs.

The increase in homelessness is largely due to a lack of affordable housing, according to experts.

A severe shortage of affordable housing started in Hawaii, the mid-Atlantic and the West Coast, said Olivia. But now, she said, it’s reaching across the country to suburban and rural areas in addition to urban centers.

Veterans listen as a panel discusses an effort to end veteran homelessness in Maine at the University of Southern Maine in Portland in August where U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough joined Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree to announce the launch of a “No Homeless Veteran” campaign to end veteran homelessness in Maine by June 2025. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“There’s an increase in average rent and a lack of supply for low-income people,” she said. “The number of people becoming homeless and becoming homeless for the first time is rising and the system can’t keep up.”

For years Maine bucked the national trend, reporting a generally declining homeless population over most of the past decade. But in recent years, as the state’s housing market tightened and rents went up, so did the homeless population. Both the population of homeless veterans and of all homeless Mainers nearly doubled from 2020 to 2022.

The HUD data shows 103 of the 2,097 homeless people counted in the state in 2020 were veterans. In 2022, that jumped to 243 out of 4,411.


In response, Maine’s Bureau of Veteran Services and Preble Street joined forces to bring it back down. The “No Homeless Veteran Challenge,” is using federal funding t0 provide landlords with $1,000 incentives and $1,500 in security deposits to house veterans as well as to help formerly homeless veterans pay rent, furnish apartments and access other services they need to achieve stability.

They set out to house 100 veterans in the 100 days between Aug. 4 and Nov. 11, Veterans Day, a goal Clark said they are close to achieving.

Masten is one of those who found housing through the program.

Since Aug. 4, those involved in the effort have found homes for one veteran a day on average, moving at almost double the rate prior to the push. They plan to continue on with the challenge past Saturday. They hope to end veteran homelessness in the state by June 2025.


Childhood wasn’t easy for Masten. His family moved around a lot. His parents were both alcoholics. His mom died from a heart attack when he was in his late teens. He joined the Navy as a way to escape his home life, he said.


In the almost five decades between when he was discharged from the Navy and today, Masten has lived in many places and worked many jobs. He traveled the country, almost never staying somewhere more than a year. He worked as a janitor at Logan Airport in Boston, managed a restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida, bought and sold oriental rugs.

There are things he liked about constantly moving around.

“It was an adventure,” he said. But all these years he has also craved stability.

“I’ve never really had a home,” he said. “I’ve been looking for one this whole time.”

Masten moved into the Old Town apartment two months ago. Preble Street paid his security deposit and some of his rent; he didn’t want to say how much.

He hopes to use this opportunity to get his life together. He is working with Veterans Affairs medical services to line up what he said is a long-overdue back surgery. He was trampled by a horse when he was working at a racetrack in his early 20s and has been disabled ever since.

He also hopes to save some money for a down payment on some land in Maine. His dream is to buy a small property along an ATV and snowmobile trail where he can sell coffee and hamburgers and hot dogs from his house to make a little money and meet people.

With the help of the VA and Preble Street, Masten said he feels like he might be able to find some peace at the end of his life.

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