CARIBOU, Maine — Maine nonprofits and state agencies are touring the state to ensure no veteran ends up homeless.
The Homeless Veterans’ Mobile Stand Down arrived in Caribou Wednesday outside the Downtown Mall. More than a dozen local and state veterans programs and community groups braved rainy weather for the chance to connect with area veterans.
Sponsored in part by the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, mobile stand-downs bring together organizations that provide veterans with housing services, financial assistance, workforce guidance and other services aimed at curbing homelessness.
The stand-downs kicked off in Brewer Sept. 6 and will go to Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston Sept. 20, Portland’s Hannaford store Oct. 4, the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services center in Springvale Oct. 18 and Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta Oct. 25.
Vendors credit the stand-downs with making veterans more aware of services that benefit them.
“If we’re in local areas, veterans can actually see and talk to us in person,” said Dan Holmes, case manager from Preble Street’s Bangor office.
Though primarily based in Portland and Lewiston, Preble Street works with veterans across Maine to access affordable housing. Case managers in the Bangor office have helped Aroostook veterans as far north as Grand Isle, Holmes said.
More than 200 Maine veterans are living in homeless shelters or in their cars or sleeping outside, according to Preble Street’s recently launched No Homeless Veterans Challenge. As part of its Challenge, Preble Street is working with landlords to house 100 veterans in 100 days.
Veterans are especially vulnerable to homelessness if they lose access to affordable housing, struggle to find higher paying work after service or are dealing with substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress or mental health challenges, said Matthew Kennedy, veterans services officer at Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services.
Traveling throughout Maine helps the Bureau meet veterans who are homeless or at risk due to personal circumstances, Kennedy said.
“[With the stand downs] we want to have statewide coverage and connect with as many of the rural regions as we can,” Kennedy said.
Though focused on preventing homelessness, the stand-downs welcome all veterans wishing to learn more about local and state services.
After chatting with Sarah Bernier, career specialist with the Veterans Forward Caribou office, veteran Karen St. Peter of Caribou enjoyed a haircut from Alphie’s Barbershop. Veterans Forward partnered with Alphie’s to give free haircuts Wednesday.
St. Peter served in the U.S. Army from 1984 to 1991 at Fort Gillem in Germany.
“Being a veteran myself, I want to see what people are doing to help,” St. Peter said.
Zachary Jackson of Caribou returned to Aroostook in 2017 after serving more than three years in the Army, first at Fort Hood, Texas, then in South Korea and at Fort Drum in New York. Jackson chatted with several vendors on financial services they offer to veterans.
“It’s good to know who to reach out to if you have questions,” Jackson said.