BRATTLEBORO—The growth over the past three years of Home at Last, a nonprofit that provides permanent housing to homeless veterans, is a mixed blessing.
It now owns five mobile homes in the Brattleboro area, providing housing for seven occupants. It is close to obtaining a sixth.
But for Home at Last founder Bob Miller of West Brattleboro, that growth has meant that the problem of homelessness among veterans is just getting bigger.
“It’s not even a drop in the bucket,” said Miller, a disabled World War II veteran. “But the fact that we’re moving forward is important to me. From the beginning, I’ve been involved in this organization, emotionally and in every other way. I am determined to make this organization successful.”
Home at Last board chairman Tom Appel said the volunteer-run organization has been in transition over the past year.
“Like any nonprofit, we’ve had growing pains,” he said. “The biggest one is the realization that we’re now landlords, and we have a group of tenants that has its own special needs.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 25 percent of the homeless population of the United States are military veterans. Of that number, 45 percent suffer from mental illness and 50 percent have substance abuse problems.
“The guys we get as tenants aren’t choirboys,” said Miller. “We do a lot of case work, and we have a good relationship with the VA. One of their caseworkers from the Brattleboro clinic checks up on them for us. The VA are the right people to be doing that because they understand what these guys need.”
Appel said tenants pay up to 30 percent of their income, when possible, to rent their homes. That rent, plus the money raised from last year’s fundraising appeal, enabled Home at Last to stay afloat financially.
“Our goal is to not get caught behind, so we’re trying to focus on keeping up the units we have and not getting over-extended,” said Appel.
He stressed that Home at Last is completely run by volunteers, so 100 percent of donations go into buying and maintaining the homes it has.
Miller shared a letter that he and the board of directors received from their newest tenant.
“Getting me out of my car and having a stable home is a big step toward having a normal life,” he wrote. “I’m proud to have my own home, with a yard to take care of and maintain. It makes me feel better about myself and how people judge me. ... What your organization has done for veterans is highly commendable.”
“That’s why we do this,” Miller said. “Providing a home and some stability is the first step toward getting their lives back together.”
Miller said the annual fundraising letters went out last week, and he hopes that people will be generous. Contributions may be sent to Home at Last, P.O. Box 6104, Brattleboro, VT 05302.