BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — When Air Force veteran Stephen McBergin lost his job as a waiter in New York City, he figured he’d be able to find a job before too long.
A year and a half later McBergin found himself in Connecticut with his savings depleted, no job prospects on the horizon, and feeling that he was a burden on friends who had put him up after he could no longer afford his apartment. As a result of all of those factors McBergin, who was 56 years old at the time, took a drastic step.
“I decided to live in a tent for about a month during the summer,” McBergin said in a recent interview with CBS Radio’s Connecting Vets. “It was around that time I realized that at my age, I needed to get some help.”
He reached out to the VA, which has a variety of programs to assist homeless veterans, with the aim of getting back on his feet by finding employment and a home. Eventually, the VA would put McBergin in touch with an organization based out of Bridgeport, Connecticut called
Eventually, the VA would put McBergin in touch with an organization based out of Bridgeport, Connecticut called “Homes for the Brave,”a transitional program which aims to help homeless veterans not only find homes, but build a financial and mental foundation that will help to keep them from becoming homeless again.
According to Vince Santilli, the CEO and Executive Director of Homes for the Brave, you can’t assume that just getting into a house is the solution for a homeless vet. He says that homelessness should be looked at as a symptom of underlying issues.
“These are men and women who are now obviously homeless, typically jobless and in many cases battling mental health or addiction issues,” Santilli says. “We prepare them. We provide case management services, vocational counseling and life skills coaching to get them ready to become independently housed.”
When a veteran doesn’t receive that kind of assistance and is merely placed into a housing unit, Santilli says it doesn’t set that vet up to succeed.
If a veteran has previously ended up homeless once, and are put into a home without directly confronting the factors that led to that situation, he says it’s often the beginning of a vicious cycle he’s seen all too many times.
“When you have a scenario whereby a young man or woman is placed into an apartment,” says Santilli. “And there are no other services made available to them, and they’re in need of those services, then it’s hard for them to sustain the ability to live independently.”
As difficult as it can be to succeed with help, Santilli says it’s drastically worse for homeless vets who don’t reach out to the VA or organizations like Homes for the Brave. Santilli says there are many factors that can cause a vet to keep from seeking assistance. Stephen McBergin says there’s one in particular that he now recognizes kept him from seeking assistance sooner, that dates back to military training and applies to many homeless vets.
“We were trained to overcome situations,” McBergin says. “But you’ve got to come to the realization that when you need help it’s there for you.”
But McBergin says vets need to remember that in the military they overcame adversity as part of a team, playing their part while working in unison with those around them. When it came to addressing his situation, McBergin says that working with the VA and Homes for the Brave allowed him to build an infrastructure that allowed him to achieve one of his lifelong dreams, becoming an EMT.
“You can do anything,” McBergin says of becoming an EMT. “You really can. And there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help to get there. It’s still you doing it.”
You can find out more about Homes For The Brave, and contact Vince Santilli and his team directly at their website.