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As The VA Flounders, Community Nonprofits Step In For Veterans

The custom-designed Gordon Mansfield housing complex at Soldier On, a nonprofit veteran center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The complex has 39 studio or one-bedroom units for veterans partly powered by rooftop solar collectors. Each unit has its own entrance, a porch or deck, and is wired for cable and internet.

Of the millions of veterans who come to the VA for help, Sam Bennett was an unusually difficult case.

He was born to a single mother of seven in a two-room shack a few miles down Route 16 from the state prison at Raiford, deep in Florida’s interior scrubland. Dad was doing time at Raiford, 17 years. Mom — Dorothy Fields Bennett — worked two jobs while the kids walked to get water and battled roaches in the shack, and at night, rats in the dark outhouse.

At 13, Bennett began to steal liquor to blunt his hunger and humiliation. His life slid downhill from there.

Many years later, after a four-year stint in the Army and years of addiction, crime and homelessness, a desperate, 42-year-old Bennett turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs for help.

A VA psychologist told him he was suffering from childhood depression.

Before it was too late, Bennett’s life was saved, but not by the VA. It was a community-based nonprofit organization that gave him the kind of personal attention, dignity and trust that a massive government bureaucracy like the VA never could.

The story of Sam Bennett, now 55, and Soldier On, the organization that enabled him to turn his life around, illuminates a trend that’s grown quietly in recent years as the VA has struggled with scandal and the growing demands of veterans: the rise of the community non-profit.

Some 46,000 locally based organizations are serving veterans across the country, and in many cases doing it more effectively than the VA.

Using a mix of VA cash and other government grants, corporate gifts, local donations and often drafting volunteers, these groups are providing services to veterans and their families to get their lives back on track — from housing, job training and financial and marital counseling to addiction treatment, short-term loans, car repairs, even baby sitting.

The VA still plays a crucial role in veteran care. Nonprofits cannot duplicate the medical care it offers, its specialized brain injury work, the occupational therapy and other advanced care it provides amputees and severely wounded veterans. But community-based non-profit organizations are stepping up where the VA is falling short.

And this points to a potentially powerful way to reform the struggling agency, many veteran advocates say. Cut it down to size. Clean out its overstuffed layers of administrators and managers. Let it continue providing the direct medical care for which it receives high marks, as well as the GI Bill education programs, pensions and disability benefits.

But boost the generous funding the VA provides to the nonprofits, and let the nonprofits take over more of what they do best. In other words — the VA pays the bills, and the nonprofits do the work.

“There are just some things that government can’t do, that independent organizations, working together locally, can do,” said David W. Sutherland, a retired infantry officer who runs the Easter Seals Dixon Center in Cincinnati. It supports local initiatives to provide health, jobs and education support for veterans and their families.

“If we turned the VA into an insurance company, we’d be in good shape,” growls Jack Downing, 71, a tough-talking New Englander who founded and runs Soldier On.

After all, it is in local communities like Pittsfield, a small city in western Massachusetts where Soldier On is based, that nonprofits can find veterans and figure out how best to help them — challenges that have frustrated the centralized VA for years.

Many of these veteran-oriented nonprofits have sprung up or expanded since 9/11 as people have felt a need in their communities to connect with veterans thronging home from the wars, and to fill the gaps the VA was leaving open.

Like any big government agency, the sprawling, $164 billion VA cherishes its ironclad rules and standardized, one-size-fits-all services. One result is that it reaches only about one-third of the nation’s 21 million veterans. A veteran may not qualify for VA assistance because of a dishonorable discharge or may have not served long enough to earn benefits. The VA lacks the ability to track veterans after they leave the service. When it can find them, it is prohibited by law from forcing them to come in for health care.

A veteran unserved by the VA may simply live too far from one of its 152 medical centers, or may be one of those 57,000 veterans waiting three months or longer to see a doctor. They may distrust the government.

Or, like Sam Bennett, they may be a hard case.

Soldier On, the veterans’ facility in Pittsfield that took on Sam Bennett.

Short and well-muscled with bright eyes and a broad face that often splits into a wide grin, Bennett wrestled his way through high school and enlisted in the Army, in what might have been an escape from the alcohol, drugs and petty crime of his neighborhood.

It wasn’t an escape. The Army in the late 1970s was underfunded and demoralized after Vietnam, its ranks poisoned with racial animosity, drugs and crime. At some bases, officers were afraid to enter the enlisted barracks.

Bennett was sent to Germany with his tank unit, Charlie Company, 3rd of the 9th Cav, to help deter a Soviet invasion. He loved the military and did well, rising above private first class to Spec. 4. He loved tanks. He also loved the lifestyle, where reefer, heroin and mushrooms numbered among the temptations. His enlistment completed at 22, Bennett was discharged from the Army and came home with hepatitis from a dirty needle and a hunger for drugs.

Sam Bennett, now a case manager at Soldier On.

He worked intermittently at Raiford prison and did other odd jobs, spending what he earned on drugs and living among other addicts in abandoned housing. In 1989 he was convicted of strong-armed robbery and served 13 months in prison in Tallahassee. “I put some harm on people who didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I had a lot of resentment, a lot of denial — it’s all somebody else’s fault.” The day he got out, they gave him a dress shirt, trousers, sneakers and $50. He went right out and bought beer, cigarettes and crack.

At one low point he showed up at his mother’s house. Disgusted, she shooed him away.

In 2001, the VA psychologist who had diagnosed him with childhood depression sent Bennett to the homeless program at the Northampton VA Medical Center in Leeds, Massachusetts. The program was run under contract by Downing’s organization, then operating as United Veterans of America. Downing got Bennett a bed at the shelter, hooked him up with VA medical care and enrolled him in the local Narcotics Anonymous, the global community-based organization with a 12-step addiction recovery program.

Eager to learn, hard-working and a natural, charismatic leader, Bennett did well, at first. Downing spotted Bennett’s potential, appointing him manager of the shelter at $7.20 an hour. It was rocky. Bennett ran away, came back on his own and started over. Ran away again.

But here’s where the personal attention of a small nonprofit made a critical difference. The VA, with its overloaded case managers and unyielding rules, might have lost Bennett at this point. Downing did not.

Working the phones, Downing located the runaway Bennett in Stafford, Virginia, and called, not to berate him or punish him, but to point out his senseless, self-destructive path. “Why are you lying down in the middle of the road waiting to be run over by a truck?” Bennett remembers Downing barking at him on the phone. With that, Downing flew one of his residents down to Virginia to bring Bennett home to Pittsfield.

“I finally admitted I was struggling,” Bennett said. “That was 2006 and I’ve been clean ever since.” He enrolled in school and in 2008, after nine months of work, earned his state certificate as an alcohol and drug counselor. He is employed at Soldier On as a case manager, responsible for overseeing the addiction treatment and physical, mental, spiritual and financial health of a handful of Soldier On residents.

And in a huge step for a recovering addict, he’s earned the right to oversee the pharmacy at Solder On, where residents come each day to get their meds.

Bennett’s job as a case manager is a big one, considering how much Soldier On has expanded. Currently, it houses 165 male veterans in a short-term emergency shelter, on the grounds of the Northampton VA Medical Center. Downing recently opened a 10-bed shelter there for women veterans — kept strictly separate from male facilities because almost all the women are traumatized by previous sexual assaults.

In Pittsfield, 71 Soldier On residents live in rooms of three, five or six men in short-term “transitional” housing in a former nursing home, preparing for more independent living, either on their own or in the model $6.9 million permanent housing complex that Downing opened here four years ago.

The custom-designed Gordon Mansfield complex, named for a wounded Vietnam veteran and veteran advocate, has 39 unique studio or one-bedroom units partly powered by rooftop solar collectors. Each unit has its own entrance, a porch or deck, and is wired for cable and internet.

Sam Bennett’s home is technically a studio, although it boasts separate bedroom, living room and kitchen areas. It’s nautically shipshape, fanatically neat as only a man who’s lived in barracks, prison and on the streets can make it. Pillows arranged at precise angles on a new sofa; kitchen spotless, dishes polished and placed in ranks in the cupboard. Framed family photos set squarely on soft beige walls — there’s Dorothy Fields Bennett, a great-grandmother now at 74, smiling into the camera.

In line with Downing’s determination to treat the veterans well, he hired a renowned local chef to provide high-class, non-institutional meals: a recent dinner featured roast garlic chicken and local vegetables.

Not surprisingly, there is a waiting list of roughly a dozen for the Mansfield cooperative.

Residents each buy a $2,500 share, owning 1/39th of the complex. If a formerly homeless vet can’t afford it, he’ll pay what he can and the rest will be made up by grants from local banks. Residents’ monthly payments, averaging around $580, are subsidized if needed by a federal grant.

Construction jobs are one of the many employment opportunities available to veterans at Soldier On.

But they can earn cash toward their monthly payment by working shifts in the kitchen, on cleaning and maintenance crews, or manning the 24/7 command post. They are paid to run construction and trucking outfits and a food pantry that’s available for veterans and local families. They operate a transportation network with a dozen vans and buses that ferry veterans to jobs, school and health care appointments, a service they’re extending to local civilians as well. Soldier On employs a full-time psychologist, a part-time psychiatrist and addiction specialists, and hires former addicts like Bennett as case managers and support staff, paying between $10 an hour and $52,000 a year.

The center also encourages veterans to participate in community service, an important part of helping restore their sense of dignity and self-worth. In winter, for instance, Soldier On’s residents open a shelter for homeless civilians with hot food, showers, beds and a clothing exchange. Veterans prepare and serve the food, clean up, wash the sheets.

It sounds ideal, but given Soldier On’s population of former military, ex-homeless addicts, there are inevitable problems. Squabbles sometimes break out in the transitional housing unit over living space in the communal rooms. “A couple of guys have gone on binges,” says Zeno Simmons, 59, an Army veteran and recovering addict who lives in the Gordon Mansfield complex. “Boredom is a big factor in going back out.”

These and other problems are handled by case managers and a board of a dozen residents and staff, which operates on the principle that “failure and weakness must be acceptable here every day,” Downing says.

In a recent meeting, they discussed how to handle a veteran bothering his roommates with night terrors, and another “moving in and out of psychosis” (keep a closer eye on each man, they decided). The committee can order a miscreant to get drug testing, meet with a therapist or impose a short-term restriction to the grounds — no trips into town.

“They don’t throw you out,” said Simmons. “It’s like, ‘How can we help you get back on it?'”

Downing puts it this way: “The VA’s idea is the veteran has to come in to see them, that it’s not their job to go find the veteran. And when the guy gets there, they jam a program down his throat.

“There’s a big difference between jamming programs down peoples’ throats, and creating an atmosphere of trust and respect where you can find your own solutions,” he said. “So we use first names here, eliminate offices for staff — eliminate the hierarchy, so that people with low self-esteem feel included.”

Downing plans to build new housing cooperatives for veterans in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Florida.

Jack Downing, the founder of Soldier On.

Who pays for all this?

Mostly the federal government. And Downing, like the flinty-eyed Yankee trader of myth, is a master at coaxing what he needs from Washington and figuring out how to use it creatively.

Of its $15.3 million budget this year, Soldier On gets $13.5 million in various VA grants for housing and support of homeless veterans and for counseling and other services. It receives $350,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor, and the rest from the Massachusetts Department of Veteran Services, local government, housing payments from its residents, and other grants and donations.

Much of the federal money comes through the VA’s innovative Supportive Services for Veterans and Families program, which this year will give some $900 million in grants to 450 community nonprofits to provide housing for veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The program, begun in 2011, is the VA’s nod to local nonprofits: the VA provides the money, and all the work of finding and housing homeless veterans is done by community organizations.

Once veterans are in stable housing, these grants enable communities to embrace them with medical and mental health services, financial counseling, job placement and other social services, to ensure that they don’t end up back on the street.

VA officials acknowledge that community nonprofits do a good job with their money. “No question, Soldier On is efficient,” said John Kuhn, a senior official who oversees the SSVF grants.

Without community nonprofits, “we don’t end homelessness among vets,” said Vince Kane, director of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans

Increasingly, though, private money is flowing to community nonprofits as well. Walmart, Home Depot and Wells Fargo last year provided some $7.5 million in grants to 600 veterans organizations, and Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz recently made available $30 million in grants to community organizations helping veterans transition to civilian life.

National organizations such as Give An Hour provide a range of free, local psychological counseling by more than 7,000 professionals who volunteer their time for veterans in all 50 states.

But it’s largely the VA’s money that allows Downing to try creative ways to reach veterans.

Furious that the VA expects veterans come to its facilities rather than going out to find them, he set up a phone line — 1-866-406-8449 — manned by Soldier On residents. Any veteran who calls will get a call back within 15 minutes. If the caller is outside Soldier On’s coverage area (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Mississippi), he’ll be referred to a community nonprofit close by.

Within those five states, a Soldier On specialist will show up at the caller’s home within 24 hours. To do that, Downing has worked out a deal with a local Toyota dealer for a $1.5 million line of credit, which he used to put 75 Soldier On representatives on the road in RAV4 SUVs, enabling them to meet with needy veterans in person.

“We don’t work by phone, so it’s long days — last year I did 58,000 miles on the road,” said one specialist, who asked not to be named for personal reasons. He said if Soldier On can’t help the veteran, he has a list of 230 other community nonprofits nearby he can recommend.

Of course, most veteran-oriented nonprofits don’t have the resources or scope of Soldier On. Some act as one-stop referral services, directing veterans to local businesses for jobs, or finding them mental health and family counseling from organizations like Give An Hour. Others offer just a few services.

Friendship Place, a nonprofit that serves the relatively affluent Washington, D.C., metro area, focuses on veterans who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes. It uses a $2 million SSVF grant to provide housing to roughly 400 veterans for up to three months.

One was Latoya Lee, who deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the District of Columbia Army National Guard, and who earlier this year found herself on the verge of losing her home.

Lee, 31, took maternity leave last December from her job as a contract administrator at the State Department, with maternity pay of $128 a week. She couldn’t quite make ends meet. By February, she was out of money and her $1,100 rent was due. She was already barely scraping by to feed her three-year-old daughter and newborn. Friendship Place stepped in with cash to pay her rent and provided financial counseling to help stabilize her future.

Lee is now back at work and no longer needs the $1,200 a month she received from Friendship Place for two critical months. She’s making her car payments and putting money aside in savings. She says she’s learned to live just below her income.

“It’s a fairly helpless feeling” to be on the verge of living on the street, she said. “I’ve always been financially independent. Thank God for the help we got.”

Despite such good work, veteran-oriented nonprofits have grown haphazardly, with some established nonprofits adding veterans services and others springing up to fill an immediate local need. Not surprisingly, they vary widely in expertise and skill — and often aren’t coordinated with other nonprofits.

That’s starting to change. The VA made an attempt last year to bring together nonprofits, local governments and businesses in many cities to collaborate on mental health services, but the effort left behind no lasting structure. As a result, nonprofits are taking the lead.

In Cincinnati, for instance, the Easter Seal Dixon Center last year convened several large community meetings, bringing together some 200 activists from nonprofits, banks and other businesses and schools and connecting them with VA representatives and others to identify and fill gaps in services and funding. One immediate outcome: a call-in center that refers veterans to the appropriate local resource for help.

Similar organizing is taking place in New York City and Pittsburgh, where the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University is helping to build networks of dozens of nonprofits, equipping schools and businesses to deal professionally with local veterans. IVMF also trains nonprofit staffers on how to seek and manage grants.

In past years, some nonprofits struggled to get federal funding, said James D. McDonough, IVMF managing director for community engagement and innovation. “There were crappy applications based on crappy ideas. Failed attempts. I saw we could play a role in teaching other communities to be attractive to the VA.”

After several years of work, he said, “we have a community of practice.” If one nonprofit is floundering, McDonough said he can draw on expertise from another nonprofit to help.

“It’s taken the VA a long time to recognize that it doesn’t own all the battlespace out there where veterans and their families are,” said McDonough, a retired Army colonel. “I’m encouraged that the VA has turned to the community and said, ‘Help us.’ I give them credit that they realize they’re not getting there on their own.”

Article by David Wood

All photos courtesy of Soldier On.

If you’ve had experience dealing with the VA or with nonprofits serving veterans, we want to hear from you. Email us at and tell us your story, and what worked — or didn’t work — for you. Please include a phone number if you’d be willing to speak to a reporter.


Governor Patrick Announces New Support for Affordable Housing Units Across the Commonwealth

Over $83 Million Will Build or Preserve 1,328 Units of Housing, Create Over 2,000 Construction Jobs

SPRINGFIELD – Monday, July 7, 2014 – Governor Deval Patrick today announced $83.6 million in funding to create 24 affordable housing projects across the state, building on the Patrick Administration’s commitment to improving housing infrastructure to support growth and opportunity throughout the Commonwealth. In all, the projects will create 1,328 units of housing and over 2,000 jobs.

“Affordable housing helps to generate jobs, grow local businesses and strengthen our communities” said Governor Patrick. “Government’s role is to help people help themselves, and sustainable affordable housing will create growth and opportunity in our communities that will last for generations to come.”

Since 2007, the Patrick Administration has invested over $1 billion in state and federal resources to create 24,000 units of housing, of which approximately 22,000 are affordable.

Last week, Governor Patrick released his Fiscal Year 2015 Capital Investment Plan, which builds upon the Administration’s successful efforts to stimulate job creation and support long-term economic growth by making record level investments in higher education, innovation and infrastructure projects. The FY15 Capital Plan continues to make investments in low-income housing development, including increased levels of funding for programs that support the production and preservation of affordable housing for low-income families and individuals, as well as community-based housing for clients of the Department of Mental Health and Department of Developmental Services.

“Providing quality housing to those who need it must be a priority,” said Congressman Mike Capuano. “I commend the Patrick Administration for its commitment to creating housing for families most in need.”

“Even as our economy continues to improve, more and more families are having difficulty finding safe, affordable housing,” said Congressman Jim McGovern.  “I’m particularly pleased to see the investments in Northampton and Greenfield announced today. I commend the Patrick Administration for their continued commitment to this important issue.”

“These funds will help provide affordable and secure housing to families in Fitchburg, Haverhill, and Lunenburg, with economic ripple effects across the Third District,” said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. “Projects such as these prioritize the reuse of historic buildings, boost the local economy and help put people back to work, making them a valuable investment in our communities.”

In November 2012, Governor Patrick announced the Commonwealth’s goal of creating 10,000 multi-family housing units per year. By creating this type of housing, which is attractive to young families and individuals, Massachusetts is better prepared to keep in state the skilled, young workforce which employers are seeking.

Last fall, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki accepted a national “workforce housing” award from the Urban Land Institute, recognizing the Patrick Administration’s leadership in pursuing a strategy to increase the supply of housing needed, and in the places needed, for its workforce.

Improving the housing stock at all levels is a priority for the Patrick Administration. Along with creating new housing, the Administration has made significant investments in the Commonwealth’s public housing stock, by preserving and improving the 46,000 housing units in the system through increased capital funding, increased operating subsidies and changes in management of those resources.

“Housing is the cornerstone to economic success in the Commonwealth,” said Undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Aaron Gornstein. “Through key initiatives and collaborations across state government and with our local partners, we continue to ensure a stable and robust housing market for our neighbors and our communities. Expanding and preserving affordable housing opportunities for families and seniors with modest incomes is especially important.”

“This investment in affordable housing is critical for families living in the high-cost, Metro-Boston area,” said State Senator Sal DiDomenico. “These developments are vital to keeping Massachusetts’s competitive edge in our current economy, keeping valuable workers from moving out of state, and will give average residents the ability to live, work, and send their children to schools in the cities and communities that they call home.”

“These investments will make sure high quality affordable housing is within the reach of working families,” said State Senator Benjamin B. Downing. “I applaud the Patrick administration for maintaining their commitment to investing in communities across Massachusetts.”

“I am thrilled by Governor Patrick’s announcement today about continued investments in affordable housing,” said State Senator James T. Welch. “Preserving and creating affordable housing is essential to the success and stability of families here in Western Massachusetts and throughout the Commonwealth.”

“The Fitchburg Yarn Mill is a historic complex of buildings on the Nashua River,” said Representative Stephen L. DiNatale. “This revitalization project is a beautiful example of an effective public-private partnership and a successful redevelopment project.”

“This will be a great help in restoring a significant number of housing units in one of the City’s oldest, and more substantial, complexes,” said Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi.

“The City of Greenfield, a “green” community, has been a staunch supporter of Governor Patrick’s call to rebuild affordable housing for all levels of the wage scale,” said Greenfield Mayor William Martin. “As an active participant evidenced by new and substantial rehabilitation of the 55-year-old Oak Courts Veterans family housing of 72 units and single family home developments in several locations, Greenfield will provide additional modern and energy efficient housing at Leyden Woods for working families. This housing, coupled with the availability of new jobs in surrounding industries, will continue the momentum toward our economic development goals. I thank the Governor and Secretary Bialecki for recognizing Greenfield as a partner on their team.”

“This funding for Highland Woods is crucial to Williamstown’s goals of increasing affordable housing and relocating residents of The Spruces mobile home park decimated by Tropical Storm Irene,” said Williamstown Town Manager Peter L. Fohlin. “Governor Patrick and Secretary Bialecki have been steadfast supporters of our recovery efforts to provide homes for as many Spruces families as possible, as well as other deserving seniors. “This project is only possible thanks to the committed partnership of private developers, town funding, and State financial and technical support.”

The following projects were announced today:

75 Amory Avenue, Boston, is a new construction project located in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood and sponsored by Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC).  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME funds and state bond subsidies; the City of Boston also will support the project. When completed, 75 Amory Avenue will offer 39 affordable units for families, with eight units reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

RTH Riverway, Boston, is a new construction project located in the Longwood Medical Area and sponsored by Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH).  DHCD will support RTH Riverway with federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME funds and state bond subsidies; the City of Boston also will provide funds to the project. When completed, the project will include 60 affordable units for families, with 14 units reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Whittier-Lyndhurst-Washington, Boston, is a part preservation, part historic re-use and part new construction project located in the Dorchester neighborhood  and sponsored by Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation. DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME funds, and state bond subsidies; the City of Boston also will support the project.  When completed, Whittier-Lyndhurst-Washington will offer 44 affordable units for families, with 13 units reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Port Landing, Cambridge, is a new construction project located in Kendall Square sponsored by Capstone Communities and Hope Real Estate.  DHCD will support the project with Housing Stabilization Funds, Commercial Area Transit Node Program Funds, Affordable Housing Trust Funds; the City of Cambridge will also support the project.  When completed, the project will include 20 affordable units for families, with two reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Chapin School Veterans Housing, Chicopee, is the adaptive re-use of a historic school building.  The project is jointly sponsored by Soldier On, Inc. and the O’Connell Development Group, Inc.  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits.  It will also be supported by funding from the City of Chicopee.  When completed, Chapin School will offer 43 units of housing for veterans, all of which will be affordable.  Nine of the 43 units will be reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Village at Lincoln Park, Dartmouth, is a new construction family housing project to be built on the site of a former amusement park.  It is the first of several phases to be built on the site which received a 40R designation.  Other planned phases include an elderly rental project, as well as single family homes.  The Town is very supportive and has contributed $100,000 from the Dartmouth Affordable Housing Trust Fund to this phase of the project.  This phase will consist of 36 family units, of which four will be reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Island Creek Village North Age Restricted, Duxbury, is a new construction project sponsored by Beacon Communities. DHCD will support the project with federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Affordable Housing Trust Funds.  When completed, Island Creek Village North Age Restricted will offer 94 units of affordable housing for residents aged 55 and older.  The sponsor is reserving 19 of the 94 units for households earning less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Fitchburg Yarn Mill Phase III, Fitchburg, is the adaptive re-use of a historic mill building sponsored by Winn Development. DHCD will support the project with federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME, Housing Stabilization Fund, Community Based Housing, Facilities Consolidation Fund and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  When completed, Fitchburg Yarn Mill will offer 38 units of affordable housing for families.  The sponsor is reserving 10 of the 94 total units for households earning less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Leyden Woods Apartments, Phase I, Greenfield, is a new construction and preservation project sponsored by The Community Builders.  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, state Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Capital Improvement and Preservation Fund, Community Based Housing, Facilities Consolidation Fund and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  When completed, Leyden Woods Apartments Phase I will offer 113 units of affordable housing for families.  The sponsor is reserving 23 of the 113 units for households earning less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Tenney Place Apartments Phase I, Haverhill, is a new construction project sponsored by Dakota Partners.  DHCD will support Tenney Place Apartments with federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME funds and state bond subsidies; the City of Haverhill also will support the project.  When completed, Tenney Place Apartments will offer 72 affordable units for families; 56 units will be affordable, with eight units reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Tritown Landing Phase III, Lunenberg, is a new construction project sponsored by Great Bridge Properties. DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME, Housing Stabilization Funds and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  When completed, Tritown Landing Phase III will offer 32 units of affordable housing for families.  The sponsor is reserving four of the 32 units for households earning less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Shoe Shop Place, Middleborough, is the adaptive re-use of a historic mill building.  The project is jointly sponsored by The Neighborhood Corporation and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, Inc.  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  It will also be supported by funding from the Town of Middleborough and the Greater Attleboro and Taunton HOME Consortium.  When completed, Shoe Shop Place will offer 24 units of housing for families, all of which will be affordable.  Five of the 24 units will be reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Christopher Heights, Northampton, is a new construction project sponsored by The Grantham Group.  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  It will also be supported by funding from the City of Northampton.  When completed, Christopher Heights will offer 83 units of Assisted Living housing for seniors, 43 of which will be affordable.  Seventeen of the 43 affordable units will be reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Leeds Transitional Housing, Northampton, is a new construction project sponsored by Soldier On, Inc.  DHCD will support the project with Housing Innovation Funds and Affordable Housing Trust Funds.  When completed, the project will include 16 units for women veterans and their children, with four units reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Dalton Apartments, Pittsfield, is a preservation project and sponsored by the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation and Rees-Larkin Development.  DHCD will support the project with federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits and state bond subsidies; the City of Pittsfield also will support the project.  When completed, Dalton Apartments will offer 100 affordable units for families, with 10 units reserved for families earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Stable Path Rental Housing, Provincetown, is a new construction project sponsored by the Community Housing Resource, Inc.  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME, and state Housing Stabilization and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  It will also be supported by funding from the Town of Provincetown and the Barnstable County HOME Consortium.  When completed, Stable Path will offer 23 units of housing for families, 18 of which will be affordable.  Five of the 23 units are reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Kendrigan Place, Quincy, is a preservation project located in Quincy and sponsored by NeighborWorks of Southern Massachusetts.  DHCD will support the project with Low Income Housing Tax Credits, state Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME, Community Based Housing, Capital Improvement and Preservation Fund and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  It will also be supported by Quincy HOME, the Community Preservation Coalition and City of Quincy Affordable Housing Trust funding.  When completed, 78 units of affordable housing will be preserved. Eight of the units will be reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

189 Broadway, Revere, is a new construction project for seniors sponsored by The Neighborhood Developers.  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Facilities Consolidation Fund and federal HOME funds. The development will also receive funding from the North Suburban HOME Consortium. When completed, 189 Broadway will offer 39 units of affordable housing for adults aged 55 and older.  The sponsor is reserving four of the 39 units for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Kenwyn Quadrangle, Springfield, is the preservation of two historic buildings that currently house low and moderate-income families.  Each property has been owned and managed by HAPHousing for over 15 years.  Kenwyn Apartments completed its 15-year Low Income Housing Tax Credit compliance (LIHTC) period in 2010; Quadrangle Court completed its 15-year LIHTC compliance period in 2013.  The buildings need recapitalization and additional historic, life and safety improvements.  Together they comprise 60 units of housing, of which six will be set aside for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Outing Park II, Springfield, is a preservation and new construction project located in the Outing Park Historic District and is sponsored by the First Resource Development Company.  DHCD will support the project with federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME funds and state bond subsidies; the City of Springfield also will support the project. When completed, Outing Park II will offer 118 affordable units for families, with 12 units reserved for families earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Cranberry Manor & Carpenter’s Glen, Wareham and Taunton, is the restructuring of two projects that will bring needed capital improvement and continued affordability to these two affordable housing resources on the South Shore.  The project is sponsored by the South Shore Housing Development Corporation, which is the current owner of the project.  DHCD will support the project with Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Housing Stabilization Fund and Community Based Housing funds.  Six of the units will be reserved for families earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

Highland Woods, Williamstown, is a new construction project sponsored by Berkshire Housing, Inc.  DHCD will support the project with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Housing Stabilization Fund and Affordable Housing Trust Fund subsidies.  It will also be supported by funding from the Town of Williamstown.  When completed, Highland Woods will offer 40 units of housing for seniors, all of which will be affordable.  Eight of the 40 units will be reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.

John Howland Jr. House, New Bedford, is the adaptive re-use of a historic building in New Bedford.  The project is sponsored by the Waterfront Historic Area League.  DHCD will support the project with federal HOME funds.  It will also be supported by funding from the City of New Bedford.  When completed, Howland House will offer seven units of housing, five of which will be affordable.

181 Washington Street, Somerville, is a new construction project located in Union Square, Somerville and sponsored by the Somerville Community Corporation.  DHCD will support the project with federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits, AHTF, CBH and HSF.  The development will also receive funding from the City of Somerville.  When completed, 181 Washington will offer 35 units of affordable family housing.  The sponsor is reserving eight units of the 35 units for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.



Soldier On is presented with $37,000 in support of Albany housing project

Check presentation

A benefit concert featuring The Charlie Daniels Band and Marshall Tucker Band at the Times Union Center last month raised more than $37,000 for Soldier On. At a press conference held on June 25th, the check was presented by Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, Shop Rite representatives, and Bob Belber, general manager of the Times Union Center. Earlier in the day, a motorcycle run and street festival were organized by Pearl Street Jam. The donations will be used to build a campus at the former Ann Lee Home, which will serve as permanent, supportive, sustainable housing for formerly homeless veterans.

Jack Downing, President/CEO of Soldier On stated, “We need to galvanize the community around the issue. We need to work with the legislature to make sure everybody’s understanding is satisfied and that the people see this is a project that will not just benefit the veterans we serve, but the entire community.”

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy stated, “This nation’s never called more on its citizen soldiers than it has in the last 12 years. All these troops have done is train to go to war and to fight, and now they’re coming off active duty at high numbers and they’re looking for assistance. They’re looking for help. We need to be that crutch.”

The project is slated to begin construction within 18 months and will provide permanent housing for over 100 formerly homeless veterans. Like the Gordon H. Mansfield Community in Pittsfield, MA, this cooperative will provide veterans with case management, substance abuse counseling, mental health services, employment and training, and transportation.

Soldier On looks forward to building more veterans housing in Albany and is incredibly grateful for the extreme generosity shown by the people and public officials throughout the entire benefit.


Success Story: Carin Rhodes

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Carin Rhodes is a veteran of the United States Army, a recipient of Soldier On’s outreach services, and, most recently, a peer specialist for Soldier On’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program in eastern New York.

Carin graduated from Taconic High School in June of 1996. Six months later, she enrolled in the National Guard in North Adams and served there for 2 ½ years before joining the U.S. Army. Carin spent a total of 8 ½ years on duty and was stationed in Hawaii and Georgia. While stationed in Hawaii, Carin married and she and her husband had three children. In May 2005, she discharged from the Army in order to focus more on her education and children. She worked as a government contractor and began school full-time in July 2006. In June 2010, Carin graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and Mental Health.

In 2011, Carin separated from her husband and she and her three children moved back to Massachusetts. Shortly after, her husband joined the family and they bought a house in Pittsfield. In April 2013, however, the two ended up divorcing. Carin got a job at a social service agency in Pittsfield but the pay, her savings, and her education benefits weren’t enough to sustain their living situation. She was receiving no financial help from her husband and she couldn’t afford the rent by herself. That’s when Carin sought help from Soldier On.

Carin visited the Soldier On site in Pittsfield and spoke to Dominick Sondrini, Supervisor of Soldier On’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) New York State outreach programs. Dominick gave Carin the organization’s intake number, 1-866-406-8449, and scheduled an appointment with a case manager. Carin met with the Soldier On/Springfield Partners case manager at the local library. The following day, Carin was contacted and told that she was approved for financial assistance with a security deposit and the first month’s rent for an apartment that she had found on Craigslist upon eviction from her previous home.

Carin’s new home has 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, a fenced in backyard, and a basement with laundry. She and her three children were able to move in to their new home in December of 2013.

Carin is now employed at Soldier On as a peer specialist in eastern New York. She is currently enrolled at Cambridge College for her Master’s Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse and expected to graduate in December 2014. Soldier On is paying for Carin to finish her Master’s Degree and helping with her internship hours. Carin was also given a new vehicle with her position and says she loves her job. In her peer mentor position, Carin conducts follow up meeting with veterans, and organizes community outreach such as work in soup kitchens, shelters, and donation centers.

Carin takes her experience as one of learning and discovery. “Never judge a book by its cover”, she learned. Looking back on her experience with Soldier On, Carin summarizes, “I am grateful.”


Veterans Deserve Better Care

Expand health benefits to cover care for veterans outside the VA system.

By John Downing

Many VA medical centers are not sufficiently responsive to the needs of America’s veterans. Those who have fought should have a choice in where they get services that effectively meet their needs, including private medical care.

The VA health care system needs to become a partner in a community-based services approach if our nation’s veterans are going to receive effective care and support. Many new initiatives that are aligned with best practices are being implemented in the VA health care system. For instance, it is shifting from a focus on disease management to a patient-centered health promotion model. Patient Aligned Care Teams will integrate primary care, behavioral health and social support needs in many places.

Still, there are multiple systemic and retrograde “cultural practices” in many regional offices and VA medical campuses that pose barriers for veterans to access available care systems. Both the Veterans Benefits and Health administrations function within siloed structures and collaborative communication pathways have yet to be developed. Pension and benefits approval continue to be backlogged. Local and regional loyalties often take precedent over loyalty to the VA central administration’s initiatives. Staff hiring at medical facilities is slow and has not kept pace with needs because of aging veterans, recent combat veterans entering the system, new claims of Agent Orange exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and sexual traumas.

Soldier On is an example of an integrated, community-based approach to serving veterans. We are one of the largest community-based providers of shelter, housing and supportive services, operating seven Supportive Services for Veteran Families grants throughout five eastern states. Next year, we are slated to increase our breadth of service and assist more than 5,315 veterans. Of the 306 veterans we house in our beds each night in our three Massachusetts locations, 98 percent are dually enrolled in both MassHealth and VA health care.
Soldier On’s service model is shifting from a shelter-bed provider to one that offers safe, sustainable and affordable permanent housing to veterans and flexible outreach services at the location of a former service member’s choice. These include transportation, medical, case management and mental health outreach where they live so that veterans have access to the appropriate level of services and receive support that ensures their well-being and dignity.

Soldier On partners with community-based agencies through its service areas, which provide targeted specialty services such as tenancy preservation, mediation and locating affordable housing. Peer specialists are trained by partnering organizations to assist veterans who have difficulty maintaining health, economic and housing stability. These strategies are effective because they are based on flexible, integrated care models, providing the right level and intensity of service based on a needs assessment and participant-driven housing stabilization plan. This also promotes collaborative, rather than duplicative, local and regional services through partnerships with other community-based agencies, health care, local government and businesses.

We urge our leaders to streamline veterans’ access to health care services through multiple front doors. We owe this level of responsiveness and respect to veterans who met their contract with America. It is our turn to meet this contract.


Memorial Day Weekend

Soldier On experienced a very successful 2014 Memorial Day Weekend! We hosted our first Memorial Day Silent Auction at the marathon races at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA. The auction was extremely successful due to the generosity of local companies and community supporters. The auction and other individual donations that weekend raised over $6,000 for Soldier On and our veterans programs!

On Monday, Soldier On staff and veterans marched in Memorial Day parades in Pittsfield and Leeds, MA. Following the parade, Soldier On executive chef and staff hosted Memorial Day picnics for our men and women to enjoy!

A very special thank you to all of our volunteers, from Soldier On and General Dynamics, runners, bidders, and to the Memorial Day Marathon Races for hosting us!

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Soldier On Memorial Day Silent Auction

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Soldier On Half Marathon Runners

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Soldier On Runners and Volunteers

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Soldier On Volunteers

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Soldier On Silent Auction

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Jack Downing, President/CEO Soldier On

2014 Memorial Day Parade

2014 Memorial Day Parade

Proud Women Veterans

Proud Women Veterans



James Ziemba Receives Volunteer of the Year Award

Soldier On employee James Ziemba was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. The award was presented to Jim last night, May 22, 2014, at the Twenty Seventh Annual Volunteer Appreciation Night. The appreciation dinner and presentation of the award took place at the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center in Springfield.

Jim was chosen as this year’s recipient of the Gormally Award for all of the work that he does throughout Hampden County and Western Massachusetts with veterans in need, particularly incarcerated veterans. Assistant Deputy Sheriff James Gill and Deacon William Toller presented the award to Jim, thanking him for all of his hard work and dedication.

Congratulations Jim! This award is a result of all of your hard work and is well-deserved!

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NCHV Partnership Award

Soldier On has been working to assist veterans in New Jersey since 2012 with funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grants. Soldier On is active in nine counties throughout northern and central New Jersey: Middlesex, Burlington, Ocean, Hudson, Monmouth, Essex, Mercer, and Bergen. Through our outreach program, Soldier On provides case management, referral services, and temporary financial assistance to veterans and their family members who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Soldier On works with other federal, state, and community programs to better serve the veterans that we work with. Hundreds of veterans in Middlesex County have benefitted from a specific alliance of which Soldier On is an integral part. The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders worked with the Middlesex County Office of Human Services’ Division of Housing, Community Development and Social Services, to institute the Veterans Housing Assistance Program (VHAP). Soldier On, along with community organization Community Hope, works closely with Middlesex County and VHAP to provide an array of services to veterans throughout the county.

Every two weeks case conference calls are help during which veterans’ services staff, Soldier On staff, and Community Hope staff coordinate and work together in order to provide more comprehensive assistance for homeless and near-homeless veterans. These calls help the participating organizations to fill service gaps for those veterans who need assistance in a variety of ways, utilize each other’s resources in the most productive way, and avoid duplication of efforts.

The Middlesex County Veterans Services Program, Soldier On, and Community Hope have been chosen as the sole recipients of the National Coalition on Homeless Veterans (NCHV) Partnership Award for the partnership that they have formed and model that they have created. The award was presented to the recipients May 29, 2014 at the  NCHV conference in Washington DC.


Memorial Day Races Excited to Partner With Soldier On

The Memorial Day Races held annually in The Berkshires, MA are excited to partner with Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization committed to ending veteran homelessness.

Soldier On will be active throughout the weekend.  In conjunction with the races they will be holding a silent auction, which will take place at the Memorial Day Races Pre-Race Expo on Saturday May 24, 2014 between 9:30 AM -5 PM at Tanglewood and the MDR Pre-Race Pasta Dinner held at Mazzeo’s in Pittsfield, MA.  Among the items available for bidding are: lunch for four at the Red Lion Inn; Round of gold for four with carts from Cranwell; Complimentary two night retreat and renewal stay for two at Kripalu Center; and a copy of “Never Give Up” autographed by former New England Patriot Tedy Bruschi.  All proceeds from the auction will benefit Soldier On.  In addition, Soldier On volunteers will be on site all weekend assisting with water tables on the course.

“The Memorial Day Marathon Races and events surrounding this weekend are a great way for Soldier On and the veterans that we serve to get involved in the community while supporting our core principles of wellness and giving back,” said John Downing, president/CEO Soldier On. “Thank you to all of our community supporters who have donated to our silent auction and who make events such as these so impactful on our organization.”

Soldier On provides safe affordable housing to homeless veterans, including permanent limited-equity ownership units at the Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, MA. The Mansfield Community serves as a national model as Soldier On actively seeks to extend its successful veterans’ programs to communities throughout the United States. For more information visit

The 5th Annual Memorial Day Marathon Races will take place on May 24-25, 2014, starting and finishing at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA.  The races will feature the Memorial Day Marathon, known as “The Toughest Marathon in the East”, The MDM Half Marathon, The Tanglewood 10K/5K, The MDM 15K Trail Race, The MDM Kids Run, and the Memorial Day Dirt Ride.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit Soldier On and Team Red White & Blue.  Additional information can be found at


Soldier On in Northampton gets $280,000 to help house veterans

BOSTON — The Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation has approved a total of $280,000 in financing to the non-profit Soldier On, Inc. for veteran housing in Northampton.

With this funding, the organization will develop two supportive housing projects on the campus of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Leeds section of Northampton to aid formerly homeless veterans, according to a press release from the corporation.

The $140,000 Front Money Loan will go to developing the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Cooperative Housing project. The four-building permanent housing project will consisting of 44 one-bedroom units and provide supportive services to formerly homeless veterans in the area.

Several local organizations will partner with Soldier On to provide many of these services, which will include case management, education and vocational training, substance abuse treatment, and life skills development.

“For years, Soldier On has been a leader in providing permanent supportive housing and services to veterans in need,” said Roger Herzog, the corporation’s executive director.

“This project’s design – which has been pioneered by Soldier On – will serve as a model for the Department of Veterans Affairs so that it can be replicated on similar sites across the country. This is just one of the many examples of how this effective organization is going above and beyond for servicemen and women in need.”

Also located on the VA Medical Center Campus, the Leeds Transitional Veterans Housing project received $140,000 in funding from the corporation.

The facility will provide transitional housing to 16 formerly homeless individuals, many of which are expected to be single women or mothers with children. The project will include 16 bedrooms, four communal kitchens, and eight shared bathrooms. Of the 16 bedrooms, 12 will be handicap accessible and 3 will have sleeping lofts to accommodate mothers with children. Additional supportive services will be offered using an integrative treatment program for those battling post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and trauma.

“Over the past several years, organizations like Soldier On have learned a great deal about providing effective housing and services to homeless women,” said Herzog. “The organization has identified a need to develop a program specifically targeted to the growing number of homeless female veterans and we are pleased to be partnering with them on this important and innovative project.”


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