Our Wonderful Home
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Our purpose is to help Vermont’s Homeless Veterans by providing desperately needed resources in an all-in-one locale so these Veterans may regain their PRIDE, reach their full potential, and once again become contributing members of society.
The Veterans’ Place is a transitional housing facility combined with assistive services for Homeless Veterans in Central Vermont. Our goal is to help Homeless Veterans transition from the homeless population. We have more than twenty-five other dedicated partners helping us.
Need help or want to help?
Please contact us today: (802) 485-8874
The Veterans’ Place offers a HAND UP, not a HAND
Participants must be substance free, help with household chores, work diligently on self-improvement (including finding employment), maintain a healthy lifestyle, and volunteer within the community. In return, participants may stay up to two years in our structured program. We will assist as much as possible to help YOU achieve your personal goals.
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Leonard Carbonneau is a grandfather. He wears jeans, a plain black zip up sweatshirt, and ordinary metal-framed glasses. His graying hair is hidden beneath a Boston Celtics baseball cap and his voice is low and gentle with a warm whistle.
For almost 15 years he served his country as a corpsman in the United States Air Force and tank driver in the United States Army. He served in the Vietnam War as well as in Operation Desert Storm. He got a college degree and was a lab technician, worked as a deputy sheriff for 12 years and was married with three children. Now, at 67, he lives with 22 other men in transitional housing for homeless veterans.
“Everybody has a different story,” said Karen Boyce, administrative manager and co-case manager at The Veterans’ Place, Inc. where Carbonneau resides. “It can be through a divorce; it can be through substance abuse; it can be that they’ve been couch surfing for two or three years and they’ve used up their welcome. Mentally and physically it’s very draining on somebody when they end up homeless.”
The Veterans’ Place is seated just down the road from Norwich University in Northfield, and is one of three transitional living facilities for homeless veterans in the state. According to Richard Reed, Veteran Services Director for the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs, when we celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, it’s because only one percent of Americans ever serve in uniform today, but they provide security for the entire nation.
“Basically, the veteran comes here and they have a roof over their head, three meals a day and I supply the laundry detergent,” Boyce said. “They don’t have any expenses. Those worries are taken away so they can concentrate on taking care of themselves.”
At The Veterans’ Place, each resident is expected to create personal goals that he intends to work toward for the entire time that he is living there. Veterans may stay in the program for up to two years and have a variety of services available to them through numerous organizations, which ultimately help them to meet their individual needs. According to Boyce, these include working on social security or a VA disability claim, finding a job, vocational rehabilitation, going back to school or retraining, getting their drivers license or getting some sort of sustainable income so that they can live on their own.
Carbonneau came to The Veterans’ place 14 months ago after three years of excessive drinking following his retirement at the age of 62.
“What were my goals?” Carbonneau said. “Number one, to quit drinking forever. That’s how I got here. I was pretty bad off physically and mentally. If you could have seen me then, you wouldn’t even talk to me.”
Reed says that despite many stories like Carbonneau’s, it is a misconception that all veterans become homeless due to alcoholism or drug use.
“A lot of people end up homeless really not necessarily through anything they did wrong,” Reed said. “It’s just that there were too many factors that built up that finally overwhelmed them.”
Boyce said the town of Northfield had apprehensions four and a half years ago when The Veterans’ Place was just taking root.
“They envisioned that a big bus was going to pull up in front of the house and all these drunks and addicts were going to move in,” Boyce said. “Because of the media, people think of a homeless person as that person pushing the shopping cart around the big city, which is not true. These guys could be you or me. They’re just normal everyday guys that come on tough times.”
In the state of Vermont alone, there are approximately 52,000 veterans, according to Reed. And while homeless veterans are difficult to count because they are more self-reliant and don’t often receive services or identify as homeless, Reed estimates that the number is about 625.
“There are 2,500 people in the state who are homeless,” Reed said. “As a general rule, upwards of 25 percent of the homeless population at any time are veterans.”
Russell Ryder is 57 years old and has lived at The Veterans’ Place since the first of October. He has wrinkles at the corners of his eyes that never leave when he stops smiling and hair the color of fresh snowfall. For 10 years he served as an aviation ordnanceman in the Navy and has been around the world twice. Ryder lost his job doing building maintenance for a senior living facility two months ago.
“I’ve been on five or six interviews so far,” Ryder said. “My whole reason for being here is to get a job. If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be on the corner of Church and Main with a cardboard sign: homeless vet, please help or I’ll cry.”
Ryder credits his progress thus far to the time and resources made available to him through The Veterans’ Place, which he hopes will, in time, allow him to find employment, housing and financial independence again.
“Just the fact that this place exists for veterans is outstanding,” Ryder said. “It’s a good place to be when you’re in between luck. It’s not like we’ve done anything wrong. It’s just that as life goes through its turns of left and right, good luck and bad luck, we’ve all ended up in a situation like this.”
The Veterans’ Place is funded largely by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as by donations and support from the community. In return for the support they receive, the men volunteer for different organizations and individuals in Northfield.
“If they’re not working at going to school or looking for a job, they are required to be doing volunteer work in the community,” Boyce said. “The guys go down and they mow and they rake and they shovel at the Catholic church and the rectory next door. We’ve had guys volunteer at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, the Brown Public Library, the senior center, the historical society, the American Legion. Whatever volunteer opportunities we know of and the guys are capable of doing they go out and help.”
“I go to the Sharon rest stop and do volunteer work for the house,” said Robert Burnor, 55, who couldn’t even walk when he came to The Veterans’ Place one year and one month ago due to a string of major health problems. “All the donations go to the house and it’s a great thing to meet with the public. I’ve been doing that for over a year now.”
Aside from the requiring the men to volunteer, The Veterans’ Place is unique in that it is the only program with communal living and the only program that serves meals, according to Boyce.
“We have a veteran who’s a single mom that does our dinners and is a Godsend to us,” Boyce said. “She was looking for another job when I was looking for a cook, so it worked out beautifully.”
Sarin Badger is a resident of Moretown and cooks dinner for the veterans five days a week, preparing what she calls “typical Vermont home cooking.”
“I served from ’96 to ’99, so I don’t really have all the bad experience that some of them do, so being able to provide good meals for them is great,” Badger said as she prepared a huge pot of American chop suey. “Like I tell them, this isn’t my job, this is fun. They can get pretty rowdy, but they do appreciate everything I do for them. And I enjoy cooking for them.”
Burnor said that the environment at The Veterans’ Place is perfect for a veteran to be able to turn his life around. He transitioned out of the program on Friday and said he will be back to visit the people who have helped him achieve independence.
“If people want to get on with their life, this is a good place to come,” Burnor said. “These people will help you to the extreme. When I first came, I was down and out and didn’t care. But they gave me my life back again, so I’m not afraid.”
Boyce said that veterans have to be patient during the program because it takes time to make progress, just as it took them time to get into the situations that they are in.
“I’ve worked hard here to sober up,” Carbonneau said. “I cleaned myself up 110 percent and went right back to the old guy I used to be. Phil and Karen are there 120 percent to help you transition out of here into a successful life. It’s working for me.”
Carbonneau has been sober for two years and two months and says that he will lose everything in a matter of four or five months if he relapses.
“I have quit over 20 times in my life,” Carbonneau said. “I’ve quit for 40 days. I’ve quit for 250 days. I’ve quit for four days. But I always went back. It’s like a gun in your head and the pistol’s cocked. You take that drink, bang, that’s it. I’ve won all the battles, but you never win the war until you’re dead.”
Carbonneau continues to work toward transitioning out of The Veterans’ Place and into an independent lifestyle once again. He said that no matter what happens in life, it is important to move on and look to the future.
“I don’t care what you’ve gone through or how bad you’ve had it. They can beat you down and you’re going to get bitter and you’ll be ashamed of who you are, but don’t ever let them get to your heart.”
By Jessica Campbell