Topic: Veterans Housing Services

Giving Voice: How to honor the memory of a homeless veteran

Along with the resources listed in this article, please visit to see how you can partner to give a veteran a home.


The Brunswick community said goodbye to a dear friend last week. As most of you have already read, Russell Williams died alone under the Federal Street bridge in downtown Brunswick on November 23rd. Last Thursday over 100 people attended the Celebration of Life at The Gathering Place in Russell’s honor. Many shared wonderful memories, sang songs, and enjoyed an opportunity to say goodbye.

The loss of Russell to the Gathering Place is profound and I find myself wondering what next? How do we honor his memory? One way is to shine a light on the fact that Rusell was a veteran. Many people mistakenly believe that since there is a VA and other government agencies that are tasked with helping homeless veterans that there is no pressing need to do more, but this is completely false. Veterans deserve to be made whole, and to have a place to call home that is their own.

Russell was lucky to have received the support of the VA resources from Preble Street Veteran Housing Services and was issued a voucher. However, those 60 days came and went with no success of finding housing. The supply of available affordable housing is scarce and the emergency shelter system is maxed out as well. The waiting lists for Brunswick Housing Authority property is years long and there are few private landlords available to help. This left Russell with nowhere to go.

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Maine works to end homelessness among veterans

So far this year 450 veterans and their families have been served at Preble Street, according to Executive Director Mark Swann. Twenty-five of those veterans entered the shelter system across the state due to homelessness.

Preble Street, with the help of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Easterseals Maine are creating a system to help house veterans within 90 days of being identified as homeless. Support systems will also be in place for the vets and landlords.

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Maine Homeless Veterans Committee Delivers Annual Update on Vet Homelessness

The Maine Homeless Veterans Action Committee delivered its annual update on the state of veteran homelessness Wednesday.

An estimated 278 veterans became homeless last year in Maine. 192 of them were housed by local organizations.

Data was collected from emergency shelters and community volunteers to create a better understanding of who the homeless are as well as how best to get them back on their feet.

Rob Liscord of Preble Street Veterans Housing Services says Maine has come a long way over the last five years in terms of prioritizing housing homeless vets.

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Medicaid expansion can help Maine’s homeless veterans access care

Refusal to expand Maine’s Medicaid program has left many homeless veterans to suffer in shelters and on the street. Maine has the fifth highest per capita population of veterans in the nation, and Medicaid is essential for veterans. Yet we have repeatedly turned our backs.

Veterans are more likely to experience homelessness than the overall population, and Medicaid is important for “veterans experiencing homelessness who have high rates of chronic health conditions, disabilities, mental health issues, and alcohol or substance use disorders,” according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation report.

Using data collected from Health Care for the Homeless projects in nine states, the report includes both states that expanded their Medicaid programs and those that didn’t, and the numbers are striking. In those states that expanded Medicaid, 55 percent of homeless veterans served were covered by Medicaid, compared with only 5 percent in nonexpansion states.

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Crowd at Portland vigil mourns loss of homeless residents

A crowd estimated at 200 people gathered in Monument Square on Wednesday evening to light candles and read the names of homeless residents who died this year.

The event, held each year on the evening of the winter solstice, started in the courtyard of the Preble Street social service agency before the procession marched up to nearby Monument Square.

“This is such an important night to show our support for our brothers and sisters who are struggling with homelessness,” Caroline Fernandes, residential services director for Preble Street, told the crowd.

For the past 22 years, advocates and the people they serve have gathered for the Homeless Persons’ annual Memorial Vigil. It gives Portlanders a chance to mourn lives cut short and to confirm their commitment to finding a home for everyone who needs one.

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A simple change could give Maine’s hungry rural people more food

… Over the past year, Good Shepherd Food Bank and Preble Street have undertaken the first research effort of its kind to better understand trends of hunger and food pantry usage in Maine.

The results from more than 2,000 surveys completed in 244 towns in every county show how much Mainers are depending on local food pantries, stretching the capacity of a network that was set up for emergencies. A quarter of those surveyed had lost SNAP benefits in the past year, and 59 percent said they were using pantries more this year than last.

“It was really when the recession hit,” said Kristen Miale, Good Shepherd Food Bank’s president. “They saw the spike, and it has yet to get better.”

Eighty-two percent of those surveyed at their local food pantries use pantries once a month or more often. Seventy-three percent have made trade-offs, having to choose between paying for food or other necessities.

Pantries are filling a need they weren’t designed to fill, said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, which offers social work, housing and meals. Good Shepherd Food Bank’s pantry network — of which Preble Street is a part — gives out 21 million meals a year, while SNAP is responsible for the equivalent of 86 million meals.

“The whole idea of food pantries really was about an emergency measure, neighbor helping neighbor when something unexpected happened, catastrophe happened, and when people needed one-time, short-term help,” Swann said. “What we’ve seen is people have been coming back over and over and over again.” …

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Portland homeless shelters reach capacity because of bitter weather

… Donna Yellen, chief program officer for Preble Street, said the agency’s Joe Kreisler Teen Center reached capacity Wednesday night. The center has 24 beds. Yellen said the staff brought in cots to accommodate the overflow.

Florence House on Valley Street is a 40-bed shelter for women. When it reaches capacity, women are sent to the Oxford Street Shelter. Florence House exceeded its capacity Wednesday night, according to Yellen.

Yellen said the overflow area at Preble Street would be full Thursday night. During the day, Preble Street “was packed, the need is so great.” Preble Street serves three meals a day to the city’s homeless population.

“Homelessness, especially in these weather conditions, is life-threatening,” Yellen said …

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Service and Sacrifice: Portland’s Preble Street Refuses to Give up on Homeless Veterans

On any given day, dozens gather outside in Portland’s Bayside area, waiting to get inside the Preble Street Resource Center and soup kitchen for a meal.

As Homeless Veteran Al Libby puts it, “if you’re hungry enough, you’ll appreciate it.” And, although he says he appreciates the food, and the warm place to sleep, Libby would prefer to have his own place, “I hate to think I gotta live in the shelter all winter.”

But for 61-year old Libby, it’s the only option. The Rumford native is trying to get back home. He is bi-polar and a veteran.

“I had a place, I just couldn’t afford it. So I just packed up and moved out.”

“It’s a shame that we’re out here. You know another shame is, we gave so much,” former Navy Seal John Donovan shared. He served in the Persian Gulf War. Now he has PTSD and calls Portland’s streets his home. “Military is, I mean I’m grateful for it, but it’s hard on you, it’s hard on our mind more than anything than your body. Just your thoughts.”

For years after his military discharge, Donovan bounced from town to town, state to state, looking for shelter, a job and help. And, Donovan is quick to point out, he is not alone. “Over 60 thousand veterans are homeless. One point four million veterans are at risk of being homeless,” Donovan shared. “You give your heart and soul and these veterans that are out here are alone, they’re scared, I can guarantee you that, and they drink to kill the pain.”

“I sleep out of doors every night, even in the snow,” explained Mark Thomas, an army veteran who lives in Portland. “I slept if it was 15 below zero with the wind chill factor was 30 degrees below zero. I crawl right into that sleeping bag, snuggled up into a doorway down in the old port. Yeah, I do.”
Thomas is 59. He’s college educated and doesn’t like to talk about his service, which took him to 10 foreign countries. He worked in construction in Maine on a variety of projects. “Anything that was big. Houses, mostly buildings.”

Thomas worked until his health deteriorated. Three years ago he had a tracheotomy for throat cancer. Doctors are worried he may have it again. Still, Thomas insists on sleeping outdoors and doing his best to fend for himself.

And this insistence on not asking for help appears to be a part of a larger issue that veterans deal with. “The message that a lot of the people that we serve have internalized is that they’re not worth caring about, that they do deserve sleeping out on the street, or all of the host of medical conditions they have to experience,” explained Bill Burns, Health Services Director at Preble Street—the state of Maine’s largest outreach for the homeless. Burns says that now that winter’s coming, it’s critical to find homeless veterans who are hiding in clear sight.

“Down by the waterfront, in the morning, seven o’clock every week the team is out there engaging folks, trying to get them to come inside, come to services to get the help they need,” Burns said, adding “and suggesting an alternative to sleeping in doorways, sleeping on the wharf and engaging in lots of stuff that’s pretty dangerous.”

Preble Street’s veterans program is unique in that it offers shelter, food and where possible job placement help. It’s what’s known as “low barrier”. Burns says it allows people to get the care they need without bureaucratic or administrative roadblocks. “What Preble street has been really good at doing is kind of developing solutions to community problems. As opposed to saying ‘this is terrible, veteran homelessness is through the roof, or this terrible thing is happening and there’s nothing we can do, well let’s figure out a way.”

A big piece of that solution is getting to the veterans where they are; without judgment. As Burns points out, “nobody grows up dreaming of flying a sign down on Marginal Way; that, nobody dreams of that. So how do we connect people with the person they were before they started experiencing homelessness?”

Reaching that person requires peeling back many layers, taking veterans to a place before the trauma of war. And, as Bill Burns sees it, that can only be accomplished one veteran at a time and requires buy in from an entire community. “I think if you’re serious about building community, if you’re serious about transforming the world, you’ve got to start where you are and you’ve got to start with people who most people have given up on for one reason or another. And, um, we don’t give up.”

Which is encouraging news. Last year, Preble Street provided 377 veteran households with services and had contact with 421 veterans. For information on the Preble Street homeless veterans outreach program and how you can help, contact them at: (207) 956-6556 or Toll Free at (800) 377-5709. You can also email them at:

Maine Calling: Finding Solutions to Homelessness

Despite discouraging news headlines about homelessness, some innovative Maine organizations have had meaningful success in reducing homelessness and improving the lives of the homeless population. We’ll learn about these solutions and what it would take to expand them.

Guests: Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street in Portland

Stephanie Primm, executive director of Hospitality House in Rockland

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18-unit affordable housing complex opens in Portland

PORTLAND, Maine —A number of formerly homeless veterans now have a place to call home, thanks to a new property in Portland.

Thomas Heights held its grand opening celebration Wednesday.

The 18-unit affordable housing property is on Washington Avenue. The building was named for Thomas Ptacek, an advocate for homeless veterans.

With a shortage in rental vacancies and rapidly rising rents, it is becoming more difficult for many low-income people to find housing, said Dana Totman, Avesta’s president and CEO.

“To have these 18 new efficiency apartments fully occupied with 100 people on the wait list suggests that we are doing something that is needed in this community so it’s wonderful to celebrate this,” Totman said.

With a growing need for housing, Avesta is already working on other projects to fill the void.