Peer Support May Help Homeless Vets In Mass.

By Jordan Weinstein

Jan. 5, 2012

veterans food pantry

Veterans gather at a mobile food pantry in Nov. 2011. (Cristina Quinn/WGBH)

BOSTON — The Deval Patrick administration announced on Jan. 5 that Massachusetts has seen a 21 percent decrease in homeless veterans in the last year — nearly double the rate of reduction nationwide. In addition, the state is launching a pilot program to serve chronically homeless veterans in the Boston metro area. 

The pilot program, funded with a $323,000 federal grant, will provide peer support, psychiatric evaluation and connections to emergency shelters, among other elements, with agencies based in Chelsea, Lynn, Haverhill, Jamaica Plain, the South End and downtown Boston.

Coleman Nee, secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services, said in an interview with WGBH News that his personal military service in the Marines and Operation Desert Storm gives him insight into the needs of vets.

Soldiers deployed overseas sometimes have financial problems; coming home, they have to rebuild financially as well as deal with readjustment and sometimes psychiatric issues. "In most cases people are able to do it, as difficult as that is, but we know in certain cases it doesn't work out so well," Nee said — sometimes resulting in homelessness.
Roughly 56 percent of homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic. Nee wasn't sure why that was happening, though he pointed out that these populations are "under-served… in a lot of other areas."
One possibility is that services aren't provided in areas where they live, he said; another is that services aren't sensitive to cultural issues.
The new program aims to address the latter. The agency will be "talking to these veterans and doing peer-to-peer outreach... [to make] sure that the veterans we're sending out to meet with these folks and coordinate with them and get them into the system can relate to them on that personal level," Nee said.

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