In a recent partnership between HomeStart’s Housing Search Program and the New England Center for Homeless Veterans (NECHV), housing search is now being provided for discharged veterans of the U.S. armed and naval services, mending a historic flaw in the available benefits offered by the federal government.
Rich’s story unfortunately shows the need for this service. After being discharged from the U.S. Navy, he spent 31 years living on the streets. “Twenty years ago, waking up was like a death sentence,” Rich said. “To go out and face the day was very hard. Now I’m invited to family events.” This includes being able to spend time with his daughter and granddaughter when they come to visit him at his Brookline Village apartment.
The journey to reach this point in Rich’s life was not an easy one. It started after his tour of duty with the Navy. “When I came back, I was living with family and I tried to go to work. I became homeless in 1975,” he recalled. “I was in and out of psych wards at VA hospitals for a couple of months here and there. Friends would take me in, but I felt like a burden so I would just leave.”
A Dorchester native, Rich made his way back to the east coast, and in 1994, finally found a program that brought him back to sobriety. However, this was not the end of his problems. “I could handle being homeless,” he said, “but I was having bad thoughts in my head. My friends brought me to the VA hospital in Jamaica Plain.” After spending a month there in 1996, he was back on the streets and in and out of friends’ homes.
This was his life until 2004, when he first heard about the NECHV and knew he had a decision to make. “My parents invited me to stay with them in Chicopee,” he said, “But I wanted to find out what was wrong with me and be on my own.”
After making that decision, Rich entered the Veterans Shelter program. He acquired his own social worker, Christine DiNardo, who is now the vice president of Clinical Services. Rich also connected with the Center’s psychiatric program and after some tests, was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and manic depression.
Doctors were now able to start treatment based off this diagnosis. DiNardo was also able to begin the process of resolving Rich’s situation, including changing his service record to show an Honorable Discharge from the Navy.
Although there was no formal partnership with NECHV and HomeStart at the time, DiNardo was able to refer Rich to former HomeStart Housing Search Advocate, Christian Kurpiewski, and the pair worked together to help Rich find a home as well as clear his name on a legal matter.
With a favorable record and a federal veteran’s voucher, Kurpiewski was able to get Rich into his own apartment in Brookline Village. Through HomeStart, he was also able to furnish the apartment with a referral to one of several furniture banks on the agency’s approved list. Rich has now been living in his apartment for the past seven years.