July 12, 2013

Preble Street to expand veterans services

The group wins a $1.7 million U.S. Veterans Affairs grant to expand its program to the entire state.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Preble Street Resource Center, which has been helping low-income residents at its Portland location since the 1970s, landed a $1.7 million U.S. Veterans Affairs grant Thursday to expand its program for homeless veterans from Portland to the entire state.

Mark Swann, Preble Street's executive director, said the federal grant will help the group serve about 1,000 struggling veterans. The grant provides a significant financial boost to the non-profit group, which has been operating with an $8 million budget.

"It's by far the largest grant we've ever received," Swann said. He said about half of Preble Street's revenue comes from private donations, with the other half from public funds.

Swann said the grant provides a much-needed service for veterans, many of whom are struggling with joblessness and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's a tragedy when anyone becomes homeless, but it's a double tragedy when someone becomes homeless who has put their lives on the line in defense of this country," Swann said.

Preble Street in 2011 received a two-year $850,000 grant from the Veterans Administration under President Obama's Supporting Services for Veterans Families program. Swann said when Preble Street applied this year to have the grant renewed, they were encouraged by Veterans Affairs officials to expand the scope of the grant to encompass all of Maine.

Swann said the program will go from five employees in Portland helping more than 400 veterans to six or seven more employees in Lewiston and Bangor to offer statewide services to more than 1,000 veterans.

"Even though our social workers will be stationed in Lewiston and Bangor, we'll be serving all of the rural parts of the state," Swann said.

Swann said social workers will reach out to veterans who are having problems, including contracting with Pine Tree Legal Services for legal aid, helping with housing and job options and connecting them with mental health assistance.

Maine's U.S. House representatives, Chellie Pingree and Michael Michaud, praised the VA's decision to give Preble Street the grant.

"The problem of homeless veterans is a national shame," said Pingree, who is married to Press Herald majority share owner S. Donald Sussman.  "These men and women have served our country, they have risked their lives and for them to end up living on the street is unacceptable."

Michaud, a member of the House Veterans' Affairs committee, said the program "has made a big difference in helping veteran families stay in safe and stable situations."

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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