According to a January estimate from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 50,000 veterans across the country are homeless. In Vermont, 120 veterans were homeless, according to the HUD data.
The homelessness numbers have come down in recent years, according to the VA, but advocates say more still needs to be done. "I think we have to remember that not everyone has everything they need," said Chris Morgan, the executive director of the Dodge House in Rutland, Vermont.
The non-profit Dodge House provides transitional housing for up to five male and two female veterans. More than a shelter, it's a home base, Morgan said, from where residents can continue their educations, look for work, and receive care for substance abuse, mental health issues and other challenges. "I hope that when folks go to bed in their warm houses and warm beds, that they think of the plight of homeless veterans," Morgan told New England Cable News Monday.
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"I've come a long way," said Scott Krouse, a current resident of the Dodge House.
The Army veteran told NECN he served in Germany in the 1990s, driving trucks, and said he is now proud to be in the Vermont National Guard. Krouse explained he started experiencing homelessness when a previous, part-time, minimum-wage job didn't earn him enough money to cover his rent. Asked where he would be if he weren't at the Dodge House, Krouse answered, "Probably living out of my vehicle."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., currently chairs the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He told NECN the VA has made great strides in this area, but he is well aware there is more work ahead. Sanders said he hopes members of Congress, regardless of political party, can come together and work to reduce homelessness in both the veteran population and general population.
"Veterans’ homelessness in this country has been an incredible embarrassment," Sanders said. "What I'm proud to say is that in the last four years or so, we've seen about a 33 percent reduction in homelessness among veterans throughout America, and that's pretty good."
As for Scott Krouse, he said he now has a better job with a towing company, providing roadside assistance to stranded drivers. He also said he is studying to become an EMT, and hopes to accomplish that goal in 2015.
Krouse said he is glad he'll have a roof over his head this Veterans Day, noting he believes the Dodge House started him on a path toward more independence and a brighter future. "A lot brighter than what it was," Krouse said.