Holyoke Mayor Morse discusses veteran homelessness at White House

Courtesy: Mayor Morse's OfficeSPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse was in Washington Wednesday addressing veteran homelessness. 22News found out just how big a problem this is in Hampden County.

Mayor Morse was just one of three Massachusetts mayors (he joined Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell) meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama on the issue.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse has vowed to end veteran homelessness in the city by 2015.

Progress is being made in Hampden County: Last week in Springfield, there was a groundbreaking for 20 new veterans’ homes on Cass Street.

Courtesy: Mayor Morse's Office“It’s just a drop in the bucket. We need many more like that building coming up to be able to house all those folks, so we can try,” said Gumersindo Gomez of Bilingual Veterans Outreach Program.

Gomez said whenever there’s a war, there are homeless veterans. He’s not optimistic Holyoke will be able to house all its veterans by next year.

Out of the 1,200 people seeking shelter here each year at the Friends of the Homeless in Springfield, the number of veterans has dropped from about 9 percent to 7 percent in the past couple years. About 70 veterans still go to the shelter each year.

“Even last night, we had vets here. We try to link them to the appropriate services. We’re glad there are additional services for them, but they’ll often end up here first while they’re trying to get their feet on the ground,” said Bill Miller, Executive Director of Friends of the Homeless. He said there weren’t any homeless veterans at FOH we could speak with because they were all out looking for jobs. He said homeless veterans will go to FOH because they lost their identification cards or VA medical information. They will stay at the shelter until they get their paperwork situated to then look for jobs.

Courtesy: Mayor Morse's OfficeIt’s not easy for veterans to adapt back to civilian life before getting a job and paying for a home. The Holyoke Soldiers Home offers two programs to help veterans through that process. One is called “Statewide Advocacy for Veterans’ Empowerment (SAVE). SAVE helps veterans who can’t get past personal or institutional barriers to get the benefits they’ve earned. The other is Statewide Housing Advocacy Reintegration and Prevention (SHARP). SHARP is a joint effort between the Massachusetts Department of Veteran Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to end veteran homelessness. The programs work together to provide peer-to-peer veterans’ support.

If you would like more information on these services, you can call 617-210-5743.

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