On Jan. 1, 108 Maine veterans did not have a place to call home: 33 veterans were utilizing transitional housing; 28 were deemed chronically homeless; and 32 veterans didn’t have a housing plan at all.

Compared to the overall population of veterans in Maine, this number is relatively low, but it’s taken a lot of thoughtful people, dedicated assets and time to get it there, led by the Maine Homeless Veteran Action Committee.

The Maine Homeless Veteran Action Committee is a standing committee of the Maine Continuum of Care. It’s members are representatives from the VA Homeless Team, Preble Street, Easter Seals, Veterans Inc., Volunteers of America, MaineHousing, and the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services. These agencies pledge to collaborate each week, discussing the housing needs of homeless veterans with the goal of achieving an end to veteran homelessness.

The conversation centers on a list that identifies by name all 108 known homeless veterans, where they are and what needs they have to successfully find permanent housing. The committee commits to finding appropriate and efficient housing placements that ensure veteran homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring. One meeting per month is open to public discussion where input is welcomed from local communities or individuals interested in addressing this issue.

At this time last year, we could not identify by name every “literally homeless veteran” in the state of Maine. However, due to the unwavering efforts of the committee, today we can identify and be accountable to every literally homeless veteran in Maine. This is a crucial step in building a system that responds competently to the emergency that is homelessness among veterans.

Without any additional resources, this level of intense collaboration has reduced the average number of days to house a homeless veteran from 250 to 105. Recognizing the military service of National Guard members and reservists, the committee in January adopted a broad definition of “veteran” that includes any Mainer who has worn a service uniform. The expansion increases the committee’s ability to accurately count and track those who are at risk of homelessness.

Assisting the committee in identifying homeless veterans throughout Maine is the Point in Time Count, held annually in the month of January. This year, the count will be held on Jan. 23-26. Required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Point in Time Count is intended to be a snapshot of homelessness on one night of the year. Data is collected from emergency shelters and community volunteers who count individuals sleeping outside on these cold January nights.

All information collected during the night of the count will be processed to address local needs as well as measuring both the strengths and gaps in the system. Information from emergency shelters and other services is collected through Maine’s Homeless Management Information System giving us a better understanding of who the homeless are, which is then used to better understand why.

Much like other issues facing our veterans, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving this problem. It is unlikely one single factor will lead to a veteran becoming homeless. However, addiction, mental and physical health issues, poverty, unaffordable housing, unemployment and family and community breakdowns all have the potential to send any one of us to the brink of homelessness.

At the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, we remain committed to leading Maine’s veteran advocacy community in order to best meet the needs of our veteran population. Great progress has been made to combat homelessness in our communities, but it will take a continued effort to eradicate the problem, and we cannot do it alone.

Following the Point in Time Count, the homeless veteran action committee will hold a State of Veteran Homelessness meeting at Bangor Savings Bank in Augusta on Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. If you’re interested in meeting the team, learning more about their efforts and seeing how you can help, please join us by sending your RSVP to committee Chairman Rob Liscord, at 245-5039 or by email at [email protected]

In addition to the efforts of the committee, the Homeless Veteran Networking Group meets monthly at the VA Maine Healthcare Center to discuss greater policy and community coordination issues, as well as plan the VA’s annual Homeless Veteran Stand Down that occurs in October on the Togus VA campus. Contact Gabrielle Farris at 623-8411, ext. 2802, to attend and get involved.

For more information about the bureau or to request assistance, please call us at 430-6035, email us at [email protected] or visit our website at www.maine.gov/veterans.

Adria Horn is director of the Maine Bureau of Veteran Services.

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