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Veterans Group Blasts Rhode Island Homeless Coalition

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

 

Operation Stand Down (OSDRI) announced it is revoking its membership with the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, because it says the Coalition's claims that veterans' homelessness is close to ending are "misguided."

On Monday, the Coalition for the Homeless was on hand with state leaders to unveil Veterans for Tomorrow, an affordable housing development on Douglas Avenue in Providence that will provide housing and access to supportive services for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and includes 20 apartments for veterans earning up to 50 percent of the area median income.

“Recent progress was achieved as part of Zero: 2016, a national campaign for ending homelessness for veterans and the chronically homeless. According to Eric Hirsch, Ph. D. of the Zero: 2016 Campaign, 163 veterans have been connected with housing in Rhode Island since January 2015. About 40 more veterans need access to housing before the state can reach its goal, added Hirsch, a professor at Providence College and Chair of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Committee," said the Coalition for the Homeless. 

Meanwhile, Erik Wallin with OSDRI, who just opened a new veterans complex in Johnston, said that “the [Coalition] needs to come out and say that the message that we're nearing the mission is not true.  When the Coalition for the Homeless said that we're near the end of veterans homelessness --  that's outlandish and dangerous."

Wallin said that “last year alone, while the ‘Zero 2016 Campaign’ was underway, OSDRI provided rental assistance to 264 veterans, 169 of whom are ‘literally homeless.’ This number does not even include the 64 residents in OSDRI Housing.”

Disputing Numbers, Approaches

OSDRI was founded in 1993 and headquartered in Johnston to help homeless and at-risk veterans secure stable housing.  

A new OSDRI building was dedicated on Monday to Thomas “Tom” Poole, a volunteer for Operation Stand Down RI and outspoken advocate in the veteran community who died in a motorcycle accident this summer. The organization also dedicated its entire veterans complex in Johnston to its founder and board chairman Tony DeQuattro, who served in the United States Marine Corps and has been dedicated to public service ever since.

Veterans for Tomorrow -- newly unveiled veterans housing in Providence

Wallin said that he was concerned that numbers reported by the Coalition for the Homeless did not accurately reflect the number of homeless veterans in Rhode Island.

“Two years ago the VA came out with additional funding  -- and they targeted continuums of care.  Rhode Island was considered a priority state. They attempted to count the number of homeless veterans at shelters, and it was inaccurate.  As a result, we were supposed to get $3 million over three years, and we didn’t,” said Wallin.  “We need to continue to go to the delegation and get funding.  They were at our event, and there's another side to the story. They've always been supportive of our work.”

Wallin said Monday that OSDRI would be withdrawing from the Coalition for the homeless. 

"We are disappointed that Operation Stand Down RI has chosen to withdraw from the Coalition. We have valued, and will continue to value, the work they do for veterans, and in particular for homeless veterans,” said Jim Ryczek with the Coalition for the Homeless. 

“We disagree strongly with their assertion that highlighting the positive progress our state has made in addressing homelessness among veterans will lead to complacency. In fact, we believe it will do quite the opposite, we believe knowing that we can house homeless veterans and that we have housed 163 homeless veterans since January will inspire Rhode Islanders to keep doing the hard work necessary to reach our mission of housing all our homeless veterans,” continued Ryczek. 

"Additionally, it is important to note that OSDRI - RI's statement that the Zero: 2016 campaign is based on only housing chronically homeless veterans is inaccurate," said Ryczek. "The Coalition, and the Zero: 2016 Campaign stands committed to housing all our state's homeless veterans not just those that are chronically homeless. The Coalition proudly stands by our vision of a Rhode Island which refuses to allow any man, woman or child be homeless and we will work tirelessly until we reach that day."

One Veteran's Story

Veteran Cheryl Farias said Monday that she “didn’t know where she would be” without OSDRI -- and that she didn't think she would have wound up homeless.

Farias, who entered the service at 17 and left four years later after getting pregnant, said that she had trouble getting housing when she moved to Rhode Island with custody of her teenage grandson - until she found Operation Stand Down. 

“There’s so many people out there that aren't being helped,” said Farias. “We’ve lost a couple of people, they'd do more for me than people would, and they were at the end of what they could take.  It’s bad enough to be hurt in war, they come back, and it's sad when our own homeland will do more for people who come here from other countries but won't do for the people who’ve fought for the country.”

“I came from Virginia [last year], and I was supposed to get housing, but then the state told be because I had full custody I wasn’t eligible.  We lived at a hotel for $30, $40 a night, $20 more on weekends,” said Farias. “I went through all the money I had.”

“I left Thompson Middle School one day, and saw Operation Stand Down,” said Farias. “I met Ernie [Parveo], and Brian Sullivan.  I was always told I wasn’t entitled to benefits, but I had my DD214, I had an honorable discharge.  Ernie helped me out, he had more info than you would believe. They got me housing, they put down a security deposit and first month’s rent."

"With [welfare], all they did was take away from me, told me that I exceeded the limit for this and that. If it wasn’t for Operation Stand Down, I would have lost custody of my grandson.  They helped me when no one else would," said Farias.

 

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