VA awards $750,000 grant for Preble Street aid to homeless vets

For the second year in a row, Preble Street Resource Center in Portland will receive a $750,000 grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs to shield veterans from homelessness.

Judging by the first year, the money is making a difference, officials reported.

"We’re seeing a decrease in the number of homeless veteran families that are seeking general assistance," said Jon Bradley, associate director at Preble Street Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that works with homelessness, hunger, poverty and related issues.

The ranks of the homeless continue to swell in Portland, but the number of homeless people who are military veterans continues to go down, Bradley said.

"We’ve seen a substantial decrease in the number of veterans who are homeless at the shelters," he said.

Last fiscal year to this fiscal year, Cumberland County homeless veteran households requesting general assistance was down 18 percent, and the number of homeless vets in the shelters was down 25 percent, Bradley said."The good news is that the special services focused on veterans are making a difference," he said.

Maine’s congressional delegation trumpeted the federal funds, first awarded last fall. The first year of the grant, received by Preble Street in a partnership with the city of Portland and Pine Tree Legal, helped the nonprofit organization help over 100 veterans with obtaining VA benefits and receiving financial assistance for housing deposits or rent payments, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, announced. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also highlighted the grant award.

The program serves veterans in Cumberland County, York County and Bath.

"We’re very excited because we have had great success with it," Bradley said. "It primarily funds us to provide services to homeless vets and their families."

Last year was the first time the VA ever put out grants like this to community nonprofits, Bradley said, and Preble Street was one of only two programs to win renewal of funding in Maine. The other second-year recipient in Maine is Veterans, Inc. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud noted that Veterans Inc. of Worcester, Mass., was awarded $1 million to serve New England veterans through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program. Veterans, Inc. subcontracts with ESM, Inc. based in Augusta to serve Maine veterans.

Bradley said the Preble Street program has been singled out for its effectiveness."We’re told we’re one of the high performers in the country," he said.

Preble Street promotes the homeless vet services with outreach at food pantries, service events, American Legion halls and even by posting signs and posters in stores in rural areas. If someone new comes into Portland’s Oxford Street shelter or Florence House, they’re typically asked about military service and can be referred to the program, Bradley added.

"We are just seeing a few young veterans, what we do see among veterans is many of the veterans who are homeless are Vietnam era, and they’re often dealing with issues that come out of that era," Bradley said.

Drug addiction, mental health issues and family problems can contribute to homelessness.

"They get to us at the point when they’ve used up all of their informal resources," Bradley said. He called it a case of "no more couches," referring to the loss of options for these veterans.

Preble Street works closely with the city’s new VA clinic on Fore Street, Bradley said, and the city and Pine Tree Legal, a service that offers free legal help to Maine residents with low incomes, try to step in to deal with unpaid utilities, back rent and looming evictions, he said.

"It really targets folks who we can help move into housing," he said.

For information about Preble Street’s homeless veterans services, call 956-6556 or 1-800-377-5709.