CHELSEA — The 21 blue-and-yellow cabins on this street have little personal touches that differ from one to the next: a grill, a patio chair, a wreath.

But every single one flies an American flag.

Cabin in the Woods was the first permanent housing development of its kind in Maine for homeless male and female veterans. Volunteers of America Northern New England opened this community in 2018 on 11 wooded acres at the Togus VA Medical Center, within walking distance of the campus but still surrounded by tall trees, now in fall colors.

Four years in, the neighborhood always has a waitlist.

The residents have diverse backgrounds but find community through their shared experiences.

Arthur Dickinson, 54, is a previously homeless U.S. Navy veteran who was one of the first residents of Cabin in the Woods. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer



The U.S. Navy took Arthur Dickinson all over the world. He watched dolphins swim in the Caribbean Sea at sunrise. He saw the Great Pyramid of Giza. He has been inside the Arctic Circle.

His time in the military instilled a love of travel, but his favorite journey these days is the short walk from his cabin to the nearby medical center for work as an environmental maintenance technician.

“This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” said Dickinson.

Dickinson, 54, says he joined the Navy because he grew up on World War II stories. He served from 1986 to 1992. He later came back to Maine to find work and spent 13 years in the field of mental health before the long hours working as an aide in people’s homes wore him down.

Dickinson was homeless on and off as he dealt with personal and professional struggles. He was staying at the Bread of Life shelter for veterans in Augusta when a VA representative told him about Cabin in the Woods. Dickinson was one of its first residents.

Auta Main, the development’s community coordinator, helped him get the cleaning job at Togus this year. He completed a compensated work therapy program and recently got hired into his current role.


“Just being here, it gives you an opportunity to grow,” Dickinson said. “You may come from a very dark place in your life, and you come here and you learn how to be really independent.”

Carolyn Olsen, 54, a U.S. Air Force veteran, lives with her grandson at Cabin in the Woods, a development that provides permanent housing for homeless veterans. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Carolyn Olsen’s father never talked about his time in World War II. But she felt a tug toward the military and joined a junior ROTC program as a teenager in California. She heard the stories about how women were treated in the armed forces but could not be persuaded to abandon her plan. Olsen entered the U.S. Air Force in 1987. She had always been interested in machinery and became a munitions systems specialist.

Olsen served for four years, working with explosives on a NATO base near London and then at a base in Texas. She wanted to have a career in the Air Force and still talks about that work with eagerness, but she decided not to reenlist when the time came because she was then a single parent to her son. She often had a tough time making ends meet in the years that followed and married a man who struggled with addiction. They divorced after more than 20 years.

Today, Olsen is the legal guardian for her 9-year-old grandson Aiden. They were living in a shelter for female veterans in Augusta in 2018 when she heard about Cabin in the Woods. The community is quiet – she jokes that the sidewalks roll up as soon as the sun goes down – but supportive. Olsen appreciates the way her neighbors look out for Aiden, one of the few children there.

“We will drive through and people will wave at my grandson,” she said.


Joseph Moore, 45, a U.S. Army veteran, was homeless for about nine months before moving to Cabin in the Woods. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Joseph Moore joined the U.S. Army after high school because he was looking for direction in life. But some of his most memorable experiences were off the beaten path.

When he was deployed around the world, he preferred local spots to tourist destinations. He still remembers visiting a market in Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and eating a meal at an outdoor restaurant surrounded by palm trees and mountains.

“I enjoyed that part, meeting people from all over the world and learning different cultures and customs,” he said.

He also had experiences that stuck with him for different reasons. A friend died when his parachute didn’t open during a training exercise, and Moore was supposed to have been there in his place.

“That will never leave me, that understanding … and respect for death,” he said.


Moore, 45, grew up mostly in California, and his dad was a Marine. The Army broadened his worldview during his four years, but he knew he did not want to spend his career there. He went on to attend San Diego State University for Africana studies and business. He had many different jobs in the years that followed, and said he preferred not to stay anywhere long enough to become complacent. He was homeless for about nine months, bouncing between states and sometimes staying with people he knew. He moved into Cabin in the Woods in 2020.

As he reflects on his life experiences, Moore said he thinks much of the division in the United States today comes from ignorance and false pride. People should be more focused on learning about and serving others, he said.

“If everybody did these kinds of things, I think we would be a little less selfish,” he said. “We would be more of a community of understanding and appreciation and not just so ‘me, me, me.’ … That will give us a truer pride.”

Ed Larrabee, 66, is a U.S. Army veteran who lives at Cabin in the Woods. He remembers the photos his brother sent home while serving in Vietnam. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Ed Larrabee saw the pictures his brother sent home from the Vietnam War, and he decided to join the U.S. Army in 1973.

“My brother’s dodging bullets, and they’re out here burning flags,” he said. “And I wanted to support the country.”


He was discharged that same year for medical reasons, but he still has respect for those who serve and believes the public has a more positive opinion of the military now. Larrabee returned to Portland, where he had grown up in the West End. He drove a cab and then became a merchant mariner and worked on the waterfront for years.

Over the years, he lived in Standish and East Baldwin. When he and his wife separated, she moved into assisted living and he traveled the country with a camper on the back of his truck. He lived on the road for two years, always stopping at VA nursing homes and VFW halls.

He moved to Cabin in the Woods after surgery and an extended stay at Maine Medical Center in Portland. He hopes to move closer to family in Portland eventually, but he said that in his home now he feels that that same connection he has always felt with the military.

“You’re always welcome there,” he said. “Veterans stick together.”

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