Posted Tuesday, November 15, 2016 11:34 am
By Tessa Roy
“There is no better way to say thank you to a veteran than actually giving them a hand that they need,” said Dee DeQuattro, Director of Communications for Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. On Friday, the organization did just that by hosting a resource fair at Warwick Mall.
Governor Gina Raimondo, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed and Representative Jim Langevin were among the leaders who visited the fair where veterans and their families could learn about their options for housing, employment, training and supportive services.
“It’s wonderful to be here because it’s Veterans Day and the best way to show our gratitude for veterans is to take care of them here in the state of Rhode Island,” said Raimondo. “I wanted to come out and be supportive of the volunteers here.”
OSDRI is a nonprofit handling the issues of veteran homelessness, housing, employment, benefit coordination and has four food pantries across the state.
The first issue is one that is particularly prevalent. According to OSDRI despite the “Zero 2016” campaign that aimed to end veteran homelessness by 2016 and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless’s announcement that veteran homelessness in the state was nearly over, the issue is still “rampant.” In fact, OSDRI said it has witnessed an increasing number of homeless veterans seeking services.
Since the announcement was made last November, OSDRI has housed more than 300 veterans through its various programs, and the list of chronically homeless veterans maintained by the State Continuum of Care and RI Homeless Coalition has almost doubled, the organization said in a release. Since October 2015, OSDRI has helped 191 homeless veterans get into their own permanent housing and assisted another 102 veterans who were on the verge of eviction keep their housing. Additionally, the organization houses 88 veterans and their families in its own supportive housing located across the state, 20 of which were placed just this year.
“While it might have been a great photo op to declare victory last year, those of us who work in veterans services know that the fight is far from over. This year alone the number of homeless veterans continues to rise,” said OSDRI Executive Director Erik Wallin.
“When we raised this issue a year ago, we mentioned our concerns that such statements may drive away needed resources from veterans and today we want to remind the public that the issue is far from over. Veteran homelessness needs to remain at the forefront of public discussion as there is no reason for the men and women who served our country to end up homeless and forgotten in the very country they swore to defend.”
Dee DeQuattro said Friday’s event aimed to reach out to a broad spectrum of veterans. She said OSDRI coordinated with the likes of the VA and the state to put on the fair. The event they hope to host annually was a huge success, bringing in “tons” of veterans all day, she said.
“A lot of people have a celebration on Veterans Day, and that’s great. It’s really important to honor our veterans, but it’s also important to do something,” DeQuattro said. “That’s why we’re here doing this and having this event. We want to make a difference and actually help these veterans.”
Langevin said he was glad OSDRI was making resources accessible to veterans.
“I’m grateful for the work Operation Stand Down is doing. It’s a nice way to honor our veterans by making sure we’re honoring our promises to them,” Langevin said.
Also in attendance was Director of Veterans Affairs Kasim Yarn, who heads the Office of Veterans Affairs that opened in September.
DeQuattro said OSDRI advocated for the new office and that the two refer people back and forth between them often. Yarn said the new Jefferson Boulevard office is doing “awesome” and sees approximately 10 veterans a day.
“At the end of the day, no veteran has to walk by themselves,” Yarn said. “We will guide them through the process…We are not taking our foot off the gas when it comes to helping our veterans, and events like these showcase that importance.”
Yarn and Raimondo also discussed their hopes and anticipations for Rhode Island veterans under the upcoming presidency.
“President-elect Trump has expressed in the campaign admiration for veterans, and I hope that he will demonstrate that admiration through providing us funding and support for the work we’re doing for our veterans here in Rhode Island,” she said.
Yarn said it would be important to partner with the federal VA to work in a collaborative way and ensure sure “no veteran falls through the cracks.”