BRATTLEBORO—Home At Last, Inc., a nonprofit volunteer group working to provide permanent housing and support services to homeless veterans, buys inexpensive mobile homes in established area parks, then renovates and furnishes them for veterans, who put up 30 percent of their income toward rent and utility costs.
Robert Miller of West Brattleboro, an 86-year-old disabled World War II combat veteran, helped found Home at Last nearly three years ago. So far, he said the all-volunteer organization has placed four people — two single veterans and a married couple — in three homes.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that as many as 260,000 military veterans are homeless at some time during any year. According to the VA, 47 percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam war. More than 67 percent served our country for at least three years and 33 percent were stationed in a war zone.
And it’s not just men. While the share of female veterans who end up homeless is still relatively small, at an estimated 6,500, the figure has nearly doubled over the last decade, according to the VA. One out of every 10 homeless vets under the age of 45 is now a woman.
The VA — which is already straining to care for new veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brain injuries and other physical ailments — is ill-prepared to deal with the growing number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are joining the ranks of the homeless. This means local government agencies, service organizations and community groups like Home at Last have to pick up the slack.
In a public appeal last year, Miller said the organization needs “a rock-bottom minimum of $20,000 per year for lot rental, utilities, heat and property taxes” to maintain the three homes. “This figure doesn’t account for price increases, or the purchase of additional used mobile homes to help meet the growing need.”
“We’re at the break-even point financially right now, thanks to a couple of Section 8 housing vouchers from the Vermont State Housing Authority,” Miller said recently. “But we still need to do more fundraising to help us grow as an organization so we can help out more people.”
Miller said past donors to the organization will receive a fundraising letter this month. Home at Last has set a goal of $25,000 — the estimated cost of buying, refurbishing and furnishing one mobile home. Miller said Home at Last hopes to buy at least one new home a year.
Filling the gaps
Miller said that it doesn’t take long for a family living paycheck to paycheck to get into financial trouble when joblessness hits.
“But if you’re a veteran with PTSD and drug and alcohol addiction, it’s even worse,” he said. “The VA does a heroic job in caring for homeless vets, but they can’t provide permanent housing. That’s something the community has to do.”
With the help of Home at Last’s case manager, Tom Manning, veterans get support with basic needs such as food, clothing and transportation. The assistance is tailored to the individual needs of each client.
“Guys who are in trouble have to start somewhere,” Miller continued. “You put that guy in a home, in a stable situation, and give him some security, you have a foundation you can build on. If all your energy is focusing on surviving on the street, you can’t deal with the other problems. The four people we’ve helped so far all had problems, but they are all dealing successfully now, and that’s all because they got a home.”
The nonprofit acquired the three units in 2008 at a combined cost of $44,640, according to the Brattleboro grand list, and the nonprofit spent $29,919 in 2009 to maintain them, according to IRS public charity records.
Miller admits it has been difficult raising money for Home at Last, given the recession and the growing demands for services on nonprofits that deal with homelessness and its associated problems.
“Human beings in this society should be able to expect, at the very least, the minimum support to keep themselves from homelessness,” he said.
“It’s obscene that there are millions of homeless people in this country,” he added. “Homelessness in this country doesn’t get the attention that it should, and homeless vets are just a small part of the story.”