Laconia Citizen: Kuster visits shelter to combat homelessness
PLYMOUTH — Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) visited the Bridge House Shelter Tuesday to discuss homelessness and the many other issues veteran service members face.
Kuster’s visit to the shelter was part of her ongoing effort to combat veteran homelessness and military sexual assault, platforms close to her own heart. Kuster has spent her time in office co-sponsoring and proposing bills to address these issues and working to reduce the backlog of disability benefit claims filed through Veterans Affairs, a problem that has been plaguing the department for years.
“My father and my father in-law are both veterans,” Kuster said. “What they and other veterans had to give was so great. I want to make sure they have the opportunity to receive.”
Upon the congresswoman’s arrival, Bridge House Director Cathy Bentwood gave Kuster a tour of the shelter. The two were accompanied by veteran Valerie Scarborough, chair of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen, her veteran husband Jack, and Alex Ray, owner of the Common Man restaurant chain, all longtime supporters of veterans’ affairs who came out to participate in Kuster’s roundtable discussion.
Kuster kicked off the conversation by asking about the status of a permanent veteran housing community that Bentwood, Ray, and other local leaders are trying to establish in Ashland. The community would be the first of its kind in the state, and would closely follow the model set in Pittsfield, Mass. by Soldier On, a private, nonprofit organization that provides housing, services and general assistance to homeless veterans. Dubbed “Soldier On New Hampshire,” the Ashland campaign currently hinges on a variance from the Zoning Board, but if approved, the project would help transition veterans from homelessness to homeownership, Bentwood said.
Bentwood touted it as a “transitional” community, much like the Bridge House, that would help reduce the number of homeless veterans.
“The VA has repeatedly said it doesn’t do housing well,” Bentwood said. “[Soldier On] does.”
Kuster lauded the efforts of the Shelter and its available services, and echoed Bentwood’s sentiments about the need for Soldier On.
“The full picture is to provide housing, medical services, employment and general supportive services to help veterans get on their feet,” Kuster said. “Soldier On is the next step of that: it offers an equity ownership cooperative communal venture where veterans can care for one another.”
The congresswoman acknowledged the need for increased attention and effort on services available to veterans and spoke of her most recent proposal — the Helping Homeless Veterans Act — which, if passed, would extend programs assisting homeless and disabled veterans, among others. She also offered her own resources to the Bridge House in regard to VA claims, encouraging residents to contact her if they seek inquiry into a particular claim.
“The values of the military include taking care of one another,” Kuster said. “We need to respect and support these values. These are services veterans deserve."