Kuster visits Bridge House on tour of state’s veterans’ facilities

Last modified: 8/22/2013 1:57:44 PM
The walls inside are plain and bare, the lighting is dim, and the people that call the little one-story building home are given just the basics – a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to chat with friends and strangers alike.

It wasn’t always like this for many of them. Some of them once went off to war, served in the military. But now these men and women are homeless. They spend their days and nights and weekends at the Bridge House in Plymouth, which provides them with a roof and camaraderie and a staff that attends to their needs.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster visited them Tuesday, as part of her three-day tour across the northern part of the state to different veterans’ facilities. Kuster, a Hopkinon Democrat and a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is the daughter of a pilot who flew in World War II, and she said she wants to end homelessness among veterans and find permanent dwellings for each and every man and woman who’s served the country.

“This is a priority for me,” said Kuster.“These folks have served our country, put their life on the line, and now it’s time for the country and community to stand up for them.”

Kuster toured the shelter for an hour Tuesday, visiting the different nooks and crannies that make up the facility, which can house up to 30 homeless people at a time.

The shelter takes in men and women and families from all walks of life and helps them get medical care, organize their finances and find a permanent place to live. Some of them are recovering addicts, others have spent time in jail. And some have served in the armed forces and fought in faraway places and seen some ugly things.

Kuster heard from some of them and from some of those now fighting for them – the staff and volunteers that keep the shelter open – during her visit Tuesday.

She heard about how some of the residents have struggled to get claims validated with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

She heard about how a voucher program set up to help veterans without housing can’t be used at the Bridge House, because the facility doesn’t meet all of the requirements outlined in the program’s guidelines. And how Cathy Brentwood, the shelter’s executive director, hopes to convert an old garage that sits adjacent to the Bridge House into an apartment that would meet the voucher system’s procedures.

“If I could get $50,000, I could do that,” said Brentwood, in an interview after Kuster departed, hoping the congresswoman’s visit would boost efforts to get money allocated for such a project.

And Kuster heard about how members of the community are working with Soldier On, a national nonprofit organization, to build a permanent place for homeless veterans to live. The group has proposed constructing 50 single-bedroom condominiums in Ashland.

It would provide the men and women who have served a place to come home to each day, a place to call their own – that is, if they meet a few requirements.

“A veteran doesn’t just step out of homelessness and get into Soldier On,” said Valerie Scarborough, the chairwoman of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen who has helped to spearhead the effort to get the complex up and running. “They have to have gone through transitional housing and gotten their lives together enough to live on their own.”

Scarborough and her husband, Jack, spent a combined 42 years in the Marine Corps, and the issue of homelessness among veterans is one that’s particularly important to them. The goal, Valerie Scarborough said, is to get the Soldier On facility opened by the end of 2014.

When that happens, some Bridge House residents will likely be able to move there.

But not all of them will.

Not the people who don’t get military benefits.

People like Alan Edes, 66.

He’s spent four months at the Bridge House. He’s had part of his leg amputated due to diabetes, and he expects that his condition may be worsening. He’s waiting for Social Security benefits to come through, waiting for permanent housing. He spent about nine months in the military, but doesn’t qualify for veterans benefits, he said, because he was dishonorably discharged.

He will have company in the meantime, though. People such as Brentwood and Holly Cormiea, the manager of the shelter, will be there for him and the veterans and non-veterans that come to the facility.

“The house welcomes everybody,” said Cormiea, who has short brown hair and deep blue eyes and rescues dogs on the side. The shelter has a roughly $300,000 annual operating budget – with money coming from federal, state and local governments, as well as private donors – and a seven-member staff.

They make sure that the veterans and non-veterans are fed and clothed. They make sure they’re taken care of – until they can find a more permanent place to live.

(William Perkins can be reached at 369-3327 or wperkins@cmonitor.com.)

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