As the city of Boston tries to end homelessness, it's paying particular attention to homeless veterans.
Pine Street Inn teamed up with the city on that effort Wednesday, inviting homeless veterans to a sort of one-stop-shopping event to help them find somewhere to live.
Of the 60 people who showed up, organizers say more than a dozen left with vouchers that give them immediate access to permanent housing. And more than two dozen were enrolled in a program to begin looking for homes.
Going Through 'Hell'
Among the homeless veterans who showed up Wednesday was David Rivera. He was born in Brooklyn, joined the Army Infantry and was deployed to Iraq in 2002.
He says the more than 10 years since he was deployed have been "hell," but that his daughter keeps him going.
"If she wasn't around," Rivera said, "forget about it."
Rivera's daughter is in Puerto Rico. She's 17 and he talks to her every day. His goal is to find a home and get a job as a forklift operator or join the Merchant Marines.
Paul Doucette wants to get back to work as an electrician. He served time in the Air Force in Limestone, Maine. His life was OK until about five years ago, when he and his wife separated. He had long been an addict.
"I had hurt my back when I was 25, got started with Percocet and on oxycodone. From there it went to Oxycontin and then heroin in the end," Doucette said. "Not being in my grandson's life on a daily basis crushed me, so that was a high motivator to get clean. That and just tired of living second hand, you know?"
Doucette needs to raise $600 to get his electrician's license renewed, and he's hoping to get a home in Lynn.
'I Think We'll Reach Our Goal'
At the event, the veterans met with representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Boston Housing Authority to find out what support services and housing vouchers are available.
About half of the vets who showed up weren't VA-eligible because of the nature of their service. But all will qualify for support from government or private agencies that will assign them caseworkers to make sure they get to medical and counseling appointments or job training.
Other agencies will help the vets get started locating subsidized housing or private landlords who accept housing vouchers.
"Out in the community, when we're not all in the same room, this can take quite a bit of time — to find a veteran who's on the street or in shelter, to connect with them, to walk them through an application process with the VA, then get them over to the housing authority and have them be screened there. That's just to get the voucher," explained Laila Bernstein, the assistant director of Boston's initiative to end homelessness.
The city's plan calls for an end to all chronic homelessness in Boston by 2018. But even more urgent, the city has set a goal to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year.
"I think we will reach our goal," Bernstein said. "I don't know if I want to be on record saying that, but I do want to be on record saying that!"
It's an ambitious target to be sure. When the city launched the effort last year, in partnership with the Pine Street Inn and other homeless advocates, there were 414 homeless veterans. It's since housed 484. As of this week, there were 91 homeless veterans remaining in emergency shelters and on the streets of Boston.
"Homelessness is transient, but at the same time Boston is a hub of services and medical care. And so people do come to Boston at a rate that is hard to keep up with," Bernstein said. "But we are doing our best. We're committed to serving everyone that we can."
And that includes the homeless veterans who so far don't want the help.
Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of the Pine Street Inn, describes one of the men she would have loved to see get help at Wednesday's event.
"We've got a fellow who's a veteran, he's a Vietnam War vet," Downie explained. "He stays out, doesn't come in to shelter very often. He's got a severe alcohol problem and that makes it really difficult for him to kind of move to the next step.
"Our van brought him in this morning at 5 a.m. to this event," Downie continued. "And we got him to the front door, we gave him a cup of coffee, but he wouldn't come up the stairs. And so, you know, a little tiny bit of movement, because that's farther than he's come before."
The Pine Street Inn actually operates some of the permanent housing units being used to house homeless veterans. And the city says private property owners have been contacting them to offer up units for veterans.
The city is planning to create a database to quickly connect homeless people with housing and support services from the moment they enter the shelter system.
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