Being back in the New England for a few weeks, where it's bitter cold especially at night, with temperatures dropping down into the teens and below, is reminding me about a place in downtown Boston that's a homeless shelter for veterans, originally started by veterans. Oddly enough, it's such a landmark that for years many Boston residents pass by it with only the slightest understanding of what goes on inside it. The New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, at 17 Court Street in downtown Boston, is, according to its website, "the nation's first and largest veteran-specific homeless shelter." It has some interesting beginnings, which are worth quoting here:
In 1986, a group of Vietnam Veterans (Peace Foxx, Mark Helberg and Ken Smith) gathered weekly at a Veterans Outreach Center in the Greater Boston area to discuss and resolve their combat experiences. Two years later, the group visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC and was shocked to find veterans who were homeless living in an adjacent park. Upon their return to Boston, they discovered that one-third of the nation's homeless male population are veterans.
Inspired by their experiences in Washington, DC and upon further edification of the homeless veterans' issue, the group founded the Vietnam Veterans Workshop in 1988, a not-for-profit, social service organization in Boston. They recruited Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and local Boston resident, David Mamet, to write, produce and direct "Sketches of War," a one night theatre benefit. Proceeds from the play, which starred Donald Sutherland, Al Pacino and Michael J. Fox, were donated to Boston area shelters to benefit homeless veterans.
In 1989, according to the website, the workshop acquired a 10-year lease on the former Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic at 17 Court Street in downtown Boston through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. The 140,000 square foot, ten-story building provided the beginnings of a drop-in shelter for homeless veterans offering hot showers, meals, and drug and alcohol counseling. Mr. Howard Levine, a Boston attorney whose practice includes representation of commercial and not-for-profit real estate developers, retailers, and educational institutions greatly assisted in the acquisition of the building. The following year, the Shelter was officially opened, offering "a wide range of services through five distinct programs and support services: Emergency Shelter, Transitional Housing, Single Room Occupancy Apartments, Training and Employment, and Health Care and Case Management. Each of these services assists veterans in solving the problems that led him/her to homelessness. Many of the staff and board are fellow veterans who understand and help their comrades back to recovery." According to the website, assistance has been given to more than 12,000 veterans over the years.
There's an outreach program for the chronically homeless, an emergency shelter, a clinical psychologist on staff, etc., etc. And it looks like over the last few years, improvements to the facility have been made as well. (There's a very good FAQ section that details more about what the shelter does and doesn't offer.)
Two thoughts. One, it's great to see how this shelter came about, and it would be even greater to see that reproduced nationally, as a model. Secondly, though, there seem to be some problems with the model. Charity Navigator, "your guide to intelligent giving," gives the Shelter only one star out of a possible four, based on its efficiency as a charity, and a similar one star in four as to its capacity (not to house veterans, but organizationally.) It also lists other charities which it claims do "similar" work (perhaps only somewhat similar, we haven't reviewed the information in any depth), all of which it gives higher ratings to. Those charities include:
|Charity Name||Overall Score||Overall Rating|
|New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans - MA||27.26|
|The Midnight Mission - CA||68.04|
|Adopt-A-Family - FL||60.79|
|The Shade Tree - NV||69.04|
|The Road Home - UT||61.74|
|Tri-City Homeless Coalition - CA||68.36|
Here's a link to the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. Here's a link to the Charity Navigator's evaluation of the Shelter. And here's a link to information about who and what Charity Navigator is -- they've been praised by Reader's Digest, Time, Forbes, Money, the Kiplinger Letter and others. For another great post about homelessness among veterans, and what we could and should do about it, click here, to Oldtimer's blog entry of today. He calls ending homelessness among veterans "our vital mission," and adds, quite observantly, "our heroes are out there tonight, and it is so very cold."
Bottom line: Anything's better than being homeless in New England, especially in the severe wintertime, and the Shelter seems like a commendable effort, with a rich history. That said, apparently it could take it up a notch as well, and as a model, it's perhaps only a rough draft, not a final form of what we should be looking for as a society.