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February 26. 2014 4:36PM

Commentary: Chronically homeless vets are a problem for all of us

NASHUA — On a bitter cold evening on Jan. 29, a larger than expected, highly energized, and deeply engaged crowd of community members attended a reception at Harbor Homes to kick off the newly created "Ending Homelessness Fund."

The fund, established by a dedicated group of concerned citizens, was set up with the specific goal of eliminating chronic homelessness as quickly as possible in the Greater Nashua area.

This would be accomplished by providing housing for the most challenged in our communities, our veterans representing a significant percentage of this homeless population.

Why are veterans chronically homeless?

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a chronically homeless person is "either an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, or an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had a least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years."

According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, "In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness — extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care — a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment. A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol."

The chronically homeless are the most desperate and difficult to place in housing. They require the highest level of public sector resources, they often have life threatening medical needs, and their mortality rate is two to three times higher than the general population.

Their lives are at dire risk.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported that this group comprises the highest users of costly hospital-based acute care. Further, it concluded that placing people who are homeless in supportive housing can lead to improved health care costs, especially when frequent users of health services are targeted.

Housing our most vulnerable neighbors is as much a moral issue as an economic one.

During the past few years, Harbor Homes, the largest agency in the Partnership for Successful Living, in collaboration with federal, state and local agencies, has had demonstrated success in reducing homelessness, in particular among veterans and those with HIV/AIDS.

The partnership has created a proven, cost-effective strategy for ending homelessness, especially for those who are chronically homeless. It doesn't happen overnight and the work doesn't end when someone is sheltered.

However, results have proven that when people are provided the ongoing support and skills to sustain themselves, live in a safe environment, and are given a chance to turn their lives around, they become independent and productive members of our community.

The Ending Homelessness Fund has raised nearly $60,000, an impressive amount since its inception just a few weeks ago.

The fund will allow Harbor Homes to have the most impact within the homeless population and the community.

Although there is cause for great celebration for the support received to date, there is still a tremendous need to maintain the momentum and raise more, in order to successfully reach the goal of ending chronic homelessness among individuals and families of Greater Nashua in 2014.

Please consider making a tax deductible gift toward making this vision a reality by contacting Harbor Homes at 882-3616 or at www.harborhomes.org/ehf.

Mary Tamposi is the director of development at Harbor Homes


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