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Nonprofit providing homeless veterans a place to call 'home'

Biker clubs will hit the road Sunday to raise money for transitional housing programs in Saco and Biddeford.

SACO, Maine — It's a harsh reality for a number of Maine veterans. After serving their country, many veterans somehow end up living on the streets. 

For more than a decade, Volunteers of America Northern New England has provided transitional housing, mental health services, and employment services to hundreds of men and women who used to wear a uniform.

This Sunday, dozens of bikers will hit the road to help raise money so homeless veterans can continue to get the support they deserve. 

Sandy Hrycuna served in the U.S. Army, but after losing her home in New Hampshire, she ended up living in her Jeep with her two dogs, Max and Titus.

"I stayed in school parking lots at night, even parking at fire department parking lots and firing my jeep up to stay warm," Hrycuna said. 

Hrycuna was staying in Maine with friends when a case worker connected her with the Arthur B. Huot House. Since February, she has called this efficiency apartment home, one of 10 operated by Volunteers of America Northern New England. 

Brian Buthot is the operations manager for the Huot House. He says female veterans are given priority because it's the only co-ed transitional housing program for homeless veterans in Maine. 

"We look at it as a hand up not a handout, they gave for our country and we need to stand behind them," Buthot said.

Residents do chores and attend weekly meetings. A number of them have medical issues or are in active recovery. They work with a case manager and receive employment services to help them take the next step to live on their own after they leave transitional housing in two years.

The nonprofit also runs an 8-bedroom Veterans Career House in Biddeford, and Cabin in the Woods which provides permanent housing for 21 veterans and their families. 

Mike Merrill, a staff sergeant with the Maine National Guard, is the director of homeless services for Volunteers of America NNE. He says the nonprofit is only scratching the surface of a much bigger problem.

"Reports have stated there are 235 veterans on the streets of Maine, that is 235 too many and honestly I feel there is more, some though just don't want to be identified," Merrill explained. 

Over the years bikers have put their kick stands up to help struggling veterans. The Rolling Thunder, Inc. Chapter 2 Maine is sponsoring the Ride for the Homes with all the proceeds going to the Huot House and Veterans Career House.

Bikers can register this Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough. The ride starts at 10 a.m. with participants doing a two-hour ride in Cumberland and York counties that ends at the Huot House in Saco.

Donations of clothing, shoes, and pet supplies are also pouring in to help veterans get back on their feet. But for Sandy, it's all about being told that she is 'loved' by staff and fellow tenants.  

"That just touched my heart cause I haven't heard those words in a long time," Sandy added tearfully.

It brings hope and healing to service members who sacrificed for our freedoms. 

For more information on veteran services, including housing go here.

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