With the winter months upon us, keeping people in housing is a priority — especially those in the veteran community.
Lowell is the one of the latest cities to be certified by the U.S. government as succeeding in ending homelessness among veterans, partly due to the work of the Veterans' Northeast Outreach Center, which prioritizes helping servicemembers have a place to call home. The center has been around since 1985, and last year, it helped about 100,000 veterans with housing, counseling and job training.
Laura Labrecque and her partner, Timothy Dillon, of Lowell served tough tours of duty in the military overseas. Life back home hasn’t been easy. This time last year, they were facing eviction.
“We did have an eviction notice because the landlords weren't getting along. So we had a few issues, but finding first, last and security to move is a lot while you're still paying rent at another place," Labrecque explained, referring the three months rent needed to move elsewhere.
Facing the threat of homelessness, Labrecque said the couple turned to the veteran community for support. “We were referred over to the [Veterans' Northeast Outreach Center],” she said.
Kelly McEachrin, a program coordinator at the center, specifically deals with housing. He says he helped about 500 veterans with housing issues last year.
“We received the phone call from our section of a veteran needing assistance. I met with the client in our conference room," he said, referring to Labrecque and Dillon. "The first thing we do, is we assess the veteran — are you a veteran? What's your need? Which in this case, it was rental arrears. And we look and see where they're located,” McEachrin said.
In each case, McEachrin and his team of case managers customize a solution. In this case, they provided money so the family could move.
“They paid a portion of us getting in. So, our first and security was paid, so we had to pay last month's and moving expenses, and we paid the rent at the other location while we were transitioning,” a grateful Labrecque said.
McEachrin says the organization's first priority is making sure veterans have a place to live.
“Our target goal is to help veterans to provide that initial need within 24 hours, and then progressively work to meet that overall need within a 90-day period,” he said.
With help from the center, the couple moved their family into an apartment. Labrecque said it made a huge difference.
“It's a sense of relief they bent over backwards to help us," she said. "It was the biggest relief we could have at the time we needed it most.”
McEachrin said every veteran in Lowell who has asked for housing assistance has received it.
“Lowell has met functional zero for homeless veterans. It means that every veteran that has asked for assistance has received assistance,” he said. "There are veterans who refuse assistance. We can't force that.”
The assistance has been a life saver for Labrecque and Dillon.
“You see a lot of programs for alcoholics or [people] coming out of prison. All these reform programs that are great. You don't see that for people that served their country," Labrecque said. "It's nice to know there are programs, though they're far and few between, there should be more ... to help prevent us from being on the streets and our children being on the streets."