By Michael Hill, Associated Press
By Michael Hill, Associated Press
Soldier On, a Leeds, Mass.-based charity aiming to end veteran homelessness, constructed 16 units of transitional housing specifically for women in December 2015 — and they were immediately fully occupied.
“I think the need is much bigger than people realize, because it’s so hard to estimate the number of homeless female veterans, because they’re not identifying as veterans. They’re not identifying as homeless,” said Sara Scoco, the director of the women’s program at Soldier On.
“They’re oftentimes couch-surfing or staying in these relationships. A lot of women are living in their cars just to try and survive. A lot of women are taking care of families and … they’re too proud to say, ‘I’m homeless. I need help,’ ” Scoco said.
So Soldier On became one of the few nonprofits in America to construct housing specifically to meet the unique needs of female vets. The $3.1 million building in Leeds features four suites of four bedrooms for a total of 16 rooms.
There’s a shared living room, and the building sits on the Northampton VA Medical Center campus, which agreed to a 75-year lease to Soldier On for the housing property.
Women can stay for months or years at a time while they seek treatment, go back to school, save money or try to land a job, Scoco said.
Most have experienced some kind of abuse, said Scoco, including about 80 percent who are victims of military sexual trauma.
“It’s really intimidating for a woman to walk into the VA when many of the services are male-dominated,” Scoco said. “It’s often assumed that the woman is not the veteran, but the daughter or sister of the veteran herself.”
As word has spread, Scoco said Soldier On fielded calls from Colorado, Texas and as far away as Hawaii.
The organization receives funding from the VA, among other sources. And it is hoping to receive state money to build permanent housing specifically for women vets in Pittsfield.
The organization started in 1994 as United Veterans of America. As its men’s program grew, women also began to seek services, leading to the launch of the women’s program in 2005, which was mainly a separate unit within the men’s housing.
By Amanda Drane , The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — In the coming year the city will see new housing for female veterans and another Verizon cell tower after the Zoning Board of Appeals approved special permits for the projects on Wednesday.
Soldier On’s housing project will consist of a two-story, 8,850-square-foot building at 402 West Housatonic St. with units that are 450 to 490 square feet each. The agency also runs a 16-unit transitional housing program for female veterans in Leeds, and the Pittsfield building will serve as an option for those women when they are ready to move on to more permanent housing. The residents will own shares in the building, intended for families with an income of less than $26,000 a year.
Construction on the housing project will begin in about a year at the earliest.
“I was charged with larceny and burglary,” says Longolucco. He was in the reserves for the Army, and then after went into law enforcement.
“I was arrested for possession of firearms,” says Marquis. “So that got me forty months in jail.” He is ex-military, 169th 11th Bravo, serving 5 years at Fort Benning Georgia.
The Cybulski Reintegration Unit in Enfield has three different groups targeted at helping inmates for life after prison. One group is for inmates nearing their release date, the second is for DUI offenders, and the third is specific for veterans like Longolucoo and Marquis.
“You have to apply. We do interviews — we look at histories,” says the John Tarascio, Warden of the Willard Cybulski Correction Institution, “There’s a variety of different factors that go into making sure that the inmate going into the unit is going to at least attempt to be successful.”
Tarascio believes in order to be successful, the inmates need to have a structured routine.
“Meaningful activity is very important in a correctional environment because it takes away idleness. When inmates are productive they start to feel good about themselves,” says Tarascio. “We want to make sure that we are ultimately making a commitment to reduce recidivism.”
The reintegration unit opened in 2015, and has been evolving over the past couple of years. Four months ago, Soldier On, a non-profit group for veterans was introduced into the program.
“They come every day Monday through Friday. They are here doing a variety of programming for the veteran population,” says Tarascio, “It ranges from life skills, addiction skills, transitional services, military benefits, and housing. They do a lot of trauma based, cognitive behavior treatment programs — stuff that is specifically for veterans.”
Alexis Truslow , the Mental Health Clinician for Soldier On, says the work she has done with the veteran inmates has been some of the most rewarding work she has done in her career.
“These folks have been willing to give their lives for our country,” says Truslow. “I think that they deserve the best that we can offer so they can get their life back on track.”
Longolucco is serving his first prison sentence, and he says this program has changed his life.
“Soldier On… I can’t say enough about the program — the program is phenomenal,” he says, “I am happy to share my time with other vets, and share our stories.”
For Marquis, this is his sixth time behind bars, but he says this will also be his last.
“I think if more of us were to jump into an opportunity of a program like this, I think there would be less recidivism,” says Marquis, “It’s the tools that we are missing that DOC and the administration has been grateful enough to give to us. Now we have something that we can utilize and try to rebuild our lives as we go back out.”
Marquis and Longolucco are set to be released within the next five years. They say they are determined to change the direction of their life with the new tools they have picked up in their time in the Cybulski Reintegration Unit.
“A lot of us face PTSD, and don’t know how to resolve the issues or have anybody to speak to about it,” says Marquis. “We have a comradery going on now and it is really good to know that you can go to another fellow serviceman and talk to him about what’s bothering you.”
Being incarcerated can be mentally grueling and Warden Tarascio says that also being a veteran adds an extra degree of difficulty.
“I think it is a difficult scenario because they are a veteran, and they served this country, they fight struggles that other inmates don’t,” says Tarascio.
That is why groups like Soldier On, are committed to trying to help incarcerated veterans.
“They come in free of charge to us and they’re here every day,” says Tarascio. “They have their psychiatrist, psychologist, program counselors, and military experts. I mean, it’s a well run organization that provides a myriad of opportunities for services that normally I don’t have the resources to commit. I don’t have the expertise.”
The inmates in the Cybulski Reintegration Unit spend roughly ten hours a day working to change who they were when they first came to prison, knowing full well that type of change takes hard work and dedication.
“I am not afraid to talk discuss anything that bothers me anymore, I am definitely owning up to what I have done wrong in the past,” says Marquis. “With a little time and effort everything is fixable.”
Tarascio says he hopes his inmates will continue to take advantage of the opportunities they are provided with, as he tries to serve those, who once served this country.
“If we can make them better than when they came in, then they have a chance at being a successful productive member of society. That is the goal,” says Tarascio. “We want them not to come back to our system.”
This week on 22News InFocus we’ll be talking about the unique challenges faced by military families, active duty personnel and veterans.
Even when we are not at war, they deal with stresses such as frequent moves or the absence of a spouse or parent. Deployment to a war zone creates additional issues for a family to handle. Our panel of guests represent programs that provide services and resource to support families, active personnel, and veterans.
You can watch 22News InFocus this Sunday at noon, LIVE on the air or streaming on your mobile device using the 22News app. And if you miss it, you’ll find it on our website at WWLP.com.
Below are links and contact information from our guests. Use them to learn more about support services for military families, active military, and veterans, or to find out how to make donations or volunteer.
SOLDIER ON: http://www.wesoldieron.org/
Toll free number to contact us for supportive service for Veteran and Families: 866-406-8449, Michael Hagmaier -413-822-8240
AIRMAN AND FAMILY READINESS PROGRAM–Barnes Air National Guard Base, Lisa Potito-manager
Lisa.email@example.com 413-568-9151 x 6981183
PIONEER VALLEY USO-250 Jenkins Street,Westover ARB, MA 01022, Pioneervalleyuso.org
Rob Baron, Board of Directors and Public Information Officer, 413-557-3290, firstname.lastname@example.org
AIRMAN AND FAMILY READINESS PROGRAM- Westover Air Reserve Base, Shanna King, manager-413-557-3024
MASSACHUSETTS GOLD STAR MOTHERS–http://www.massgoldstarmothers.com/
Tracy J. Taylor, President, Western Mass Gold Star Mothers, Tractaylor1@aol.com
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) – Mississippi has an estimated 220,000 veterans in the state, many of them are homeless.
A national organization, with funding from the Veteran’s Administration, is working to identify and find permanent homes for Mississippi’s homeless population.
A stretch of abandoned structures on Livingston Road could soon be transformed into permanent housing for homeless veterans.
That’s the plan of Soldier On, a nonprofit organization funded by the VA.
It is headquartered in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and began offering transitional housing and support services to veterans in 1994.
The program is currently in six states.
The Veterans Administration’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant is providing $2 million in Mississippi for housing.
Soldier On is coordinating efforts to build 60 permanent housing units for homeless vets on eight acres across from the Jackson Medical Mall.
“We’re working with a site that is currently owned by the Jackson Public Schools,” said Soldier On Senior Vice President Hayes Dent. “They have been very cooperative with working with us, as has the medical Mall foundation and we hope to build our permanent housing in that area.”
“I’ve seen veterans that are staying under bridges, staying in parks,” said Soldier On Employment Specialist Alvin Buckley.
Just over three years ago, the Marine Corps vet was on the verge of being homeless, but today, Buckley works with Soldier On’s finding jobs for vets.
The organization has worked with 1,200 homeless veterans in the state.
“I was needing help with my rent. I was kinda behind,” said Buckley. “A friend of mine told me about the program, and I reached out to them. A case manager came out and visited me and they helped me out.”
Soldier On also works with incarcerated veterans at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. The program offers 30 hours of weekly instruction on coping strategies, conflict resolution, substance abuse and more.
The Labor Department is providing $200,000 for that program.
If you are a veteran needing help with housing, health care or substance abuse, call Soldier On at 1-800-406-8449.
Copyright 2017 MSNewsNow. All rights reserved.
BY DESARE FRAZIE. A national organization focused on helping Mississippi homeless veterans is announcing new plans, including building housing in Jackson.
Beth Borsage is a case manager with Soldier On, a non-profit based out of Massachusetts. Her territory is the Gulfcoast. She doesn’t work out of an office. Instead she gets her assignments in daily emails.
“The message will get to us to call this person and make an appointment and go to where they are and help them wherever they’re at. If they’re living by the railroad tracks or living in an apartment they’re about to loose. We go there,” said Borage.
Borsage says they’ll pay the deposit and rent for an apartment and help vets get the benefits they’re entitled to. John Downing is with Soldier On. He says the non-profit is the largest provider of supportive services for veterans in the country. Downing says they’ve been in Mississippi five years and have helped more than 4,000 veterans. He says they have partnerships and receive grants from agencies like the Veteran’s Administration. Downing says they want Mississippians to lead the effort now.
“We extracted the Massachusetts experts out, put in the local experts and now this should grow to be the face of Mississippi,” said Downing.
Mississippi Veteran Hayes Dent heads the state’s operation. He’s says they’re adding more partners and in talks to develop a 60 unit permanent housing community in Jackson by 2019.
“If you look at our housing, the housing that we’ve built all over the country. It’s the kind of housing you’d want to live in. Nothing that we build at Soldier On anyone would shamed of living in,” said Dent.
Among the other services offered Hayes says are peer counseling and a program for veterans in prison at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.
Dedication ceremony for Agawam ‘Soldier On’ facility brings hope and homes to vets.
By: Conor Berry
AGAWAM — Soldier On, the Pittsfield-based nonprofit dedicated to ending veteran homelessness by providing permanent, supportive, sustainable housing, held a dedication ceremony Monday afternoon at the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community facility, 702 South Westfield St., in the Feeding Hills section of Agawam.
The former Western Massachusetts Regional Police Academy has been transformed into affordable housing for 51 veterans, including 49 partially furnished units in the renovated academy and two units in a new annex to the building.
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, Agawam City Council President James P. Cichetti, and state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash were among those who spoke at the dedication ceremony.
In the absence of Agawam Mayor Richard A. Cohen, who was traveling back from Boston at the time of the event, Cichetti welcomed the large crowd of dignitaries to Agawam for the ceremony, including veterans and local and state officials.
“On behalf of the City of Agawam, welcome home,” Cichetti, who’s running for mayor, said to the veterans. The candidate praised former state Rep. Rosemary Sandlin for getting the legislative process rolling.
Ash credited Congressman Neal for his ability to get things done for his constituents in Western Massachusetts. “Richie Neal is legendary for delivering things back home to his district,” Ash said.
Ash spoke on behalf of Gov. Charlie Baker, saying nobody who ever wore a U.S. military uniform “should ever struggle to find a place to live.”
State Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr., R-Westfield, state Rep. Nicholas A. Boldyga, R-Southwick, and state Secretary of Veterans’ Services Francisco A. Urena were among the many officials in attendance.
When it was Neal’s turn to speak, he said the dedication of the new facility marked a “great day for Agawam and a great day for Soldier On.” Neal, dean of the state’s congressional delegation in Washington, praised Agawam officials for making the necessary zoning changes to accommodate and support the project.
Linda Mansfield, a member of the Soldier On Board of Directors and wife of the late Gordon H. Mansfield, whom the building is named for, was also on hand.
Gordon Mansfield, a former deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, was a Pittsfield native and highly decorated Army veteran who survived two tours of duty in Vietnam. As company commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Mansfield sustained a spinal cord injury during the 1968 Tet Offensive, for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross — the second-highest personal decoration for valor in combat.
In July 2010, the former police academy building was transferred to Soldier On through state legislation, allowing for the development of permanent affordable housing for veterans at the Agawam site.
The Agawam project was approved in 2015, with construction beginning in March 2016. The roughly $14 million project was financed through state and federal historic tax credits, in partnership with companies such as Citizens Bank and the Stratford Capital Group.
Soldier On staff will be on site to provide daily support to veterans. The organization also has facilities in Pittsfield, Northampton and Chicopee.
A unique program is trying to ensure veterans who’ve served time in prison don’t face a tough battle for a job when they’re released.
Soldier On, a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts, runs an incarcerated veterans program focused on training and preparing inmates for life after prison. The program is now in its third year after recently expanding into Mississippi.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections implemented the concept at one of its facilities in 2016, and so far the initiative has helped at least 56 former inmates and veterans get back on their feet after spending time behind bars.
“Programs like this are going to save the state money because we’ll have fewer people in prison and more rehabilitated people getting on the right track and improving their lives, their family and their community,” MDOC commissioner Pelicia E. Hall said in a news release about the program. “This is a workforce development program that changes the direction of people who may have gone down the wrong road. This turns them into tax payers rather than tax burdens.”
The initiative is based on a program started in 2014 by Soldier On at the Albany County Correctional Facility in New York. Soldier On administers programs assisting veterans in several other states. The counterpart inmate veterans program in Mississippi was started with the help of Voice of Calvary Ministries, which assists homeless veterans and their families.
Phil Reed, president and CEO of VOCM says the core of the initiative is centered around Moral Reconation Therapy.
“It really is a well put together program that works with the veterans,” Reed told Fox News. “[It makes them think about] what kind of choices did you make to get you here and what are you going to do differently starting today and especially when you get out so you don’t make the choice to come back?”
B.R. Hawkins, the grants manager for Soldier On in Mississippi, says the program is supported by federal grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor at no cost to state taxpayers. The goal is to reduce the chances of an inmate returning to prison.
“We work with them in getting stable housing before they come out,” Hawkins told Fox News. “And work with them as much as possible to get a job before they come out. So right now we have about 38 veterans enrolled in our program.”
According to Soldier On, 277 veterans at the Albany County Correctional Facility have been admitted into the program since 2014. Only 12 veterans have returned to prison due to a new charge.
Hawkins said she and her team personally follow up with each former inmate helping them restart their lives. She notes many employers may have an issue with hiring a convicted felon, but she’s found employers willing to give those released a new shot at life.
Eligible participants in the program are moved or transferred to a special ‘pod’ or group located at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Once there, the inmates take part in daily classes at the prison. One of those former inmates is Otis Banks, who served in the National Guard before being convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping. He served 15 years in prison after his conviction.
“I didn’t have to do what I did, but we all make bad choices at times,” we have to live with those choices,” Banks said, reflecting on his past.
Now that he’s out of prison for nearly a year, he has a car, an apartment and a good paying job. Banks describes himself as a devout Christian and said he feels he has a new lease on life after his experience.
“It was hard for me to acquire my social security card or a drivers license or an ID and you understand that you need that to even find a job,” Banks said. “It was so many people that was going out of their way to make sure that I had these items. The program is truly a blessing.”
Banks said the other inmates in the program value their experiences because it offers them another shot at life beyond prison walls. Although some of his former prison mates will never be released, Banks said a sense of camaraderie still existed within the special wing they were assigned to.
According to a spokesperson for MDOC, the program will continue to be administered at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. Hawkins said she hopes to have 60 veterans enrolled in the classes in Mississippi by the end of the year.