PORTLAND, Maine — In many ways, having a safe and steady place to live is a basic need that's key to success. Now, dozens of Veterans in Maine have new homes because of a challenge that has been going on since late summer.
The Portland-based nonprofit Preble Street launched its "100 Veteran Challenge: Unlocking Homes for Heroes" on Aug. 3. The goal of this initiative is to house 100 Veterans in 100 days -- so, by Veterans Day on November 11, 2021.
Dan Hodgkins is the senior director of veterans housing services at Preble Street. He said in the 90 days leading up to the challenge, Preble Street was housing one veteran every two days. Now, the nonprofit is housing one veteran almost daily.
So far, Preble Street is in the process of housing 69 veterans through the challenge. Hodgkins said that means there are still 31 veterans to find homes for in order to reach the goal of 100 housed by November 11. It's why Preble Street is asking for continued support from landlords. Hodgkins said a lot of this initiative wouldn't be possible without collaboration.
"It feels great to know that we're out there helping," Hodgkins said. "Really, all of the credit goes to the caseworkers and the people working at all of these agencies that serve veterans -- doing the hard work day in and day out, connecting to the Veterans, really understanding what their needs are, and partnering with landlords to get people housed."
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In August, Preble Street released statistics indicating there had been about an 84% increase in veteran homelessness since the pandemic began. Hodgkins said it's important to recognize that homelessness doesn't have a single cause and can affect people from all backgrounds.
"Veterans end up homeless in a variety of ways," Hodgkins said. "The most common cause of homelessness is poverty -- so, people just are unable to afford to pay for their rent. We have veterans who are single individuals. We have veteran families that we serve. Right now, we're serving one family with two parents and seven kids."
Leroy Patterson is one veteran who is being helped by this initiative. He served in the Gulf War from 1990 to 1994 and recently found an apartment through this challenge with help from Veterans Inc., a transitional housing service in Lewiston.
Patterson said the pandemic has made the search for affordable housing really difficult. He's hoping to move in to his new place this week -- or at least by the start of November.
"You will not believe this place," Patterson said with a smile. "I almost cried. I try to be rugged, you know, but I really almost cried. It was a blessing."
Patterson said his apartment is in Auburn where he works at the local YMCA. For him, time spent serving his country was a "life-changing" experience, although he said he did go to a "dark side" for a while afterwards. In some ways, this apartment represents a new chapter.
"It's relief. It's joy. I find it hard to really express it. It's pretty much like hitting the lottery. I can't stress that enough,” Patterson said.
Preble Street's long-term goal is to eventually end veteran homelessness in Maine. The nonprofit is relying on help from landlords to make this challenge possible. If you're a landlord interested in learning more about this initiative and incentives, you can click here.