Chairman Honored for Efforts to End Homelessness
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
HOLYOKE, Mass., Oct. 30, 2009 The United States has the values, wealth, and support of its leadership to end homelessness among veterans, the top military officer said last night as he accepted an award for his efforts to stop what he said is a nationwide problem.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deborah, greet formerly homeless veterans at the first Soldier On award ceremony in Holyoke, Mass., Oct. 29, 2009. Mullen was the first recipient of the award created to recognize a person each year who works to stem homelessness among veterans. Soldier On operates shelters as transitional homes for veterans while providing them medical care, counseling and career services. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was “humbled, thrilled and grateful” to accept the first “Soldier On” award here last night.
“I accept this award but I really do accept it for the 2 million men and women who are serving right now, active and reserve and guard,” Mullen said. “[They] make up the best military we’ve ever had in our country.”
The Soldier On award was created as an annual recognition of a person who has made a significant contribution to ending homelessness among veterans. Mullen received a bronze statuette created by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andrew DeVries, who will create statuettes for future honorees, as well.
Homelessness among veterans has been a challenge virtually all of Mullen’s adult life, particularly post-Vietnam, he said. It’s an issue he’s focused on as the country fights two wars.
“Several years ago when these conflicts started, one of the things I promised myself is I’d do everything I could to make sure we didn’t generate another generation of homeless veterans, which we did when I was young,” Mullen told reporters before accepting the award.
The chairman said he is grateful for all that Jack Downing, founder of Soldier On and all the sponsors have done to curb homelessness among veterans in Massachusetts. But, he said, “the homeless veterans challenge is one that is certainly much broader than the local challenge here. It’s a national challenge.”
The road ahead to curbing homelessness among veterans is long, but Mullen said he’s confident in the leadership, which he described as “committed to making it work.”
“It is a great, great privilege to be able to serve with so many who care and then to see how much difference can be made,” he said as he accepted the award. “We do have extraordinary support for our young men and women who serve right now.
“I really do believe that we can solve this problem,” he added. “We are a rich country. We are a rich people with the values that can make sure that everyone who serves is able to live their American dream. That’s who we are as a country.”
Soldier On is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that serves homeless veterans at shelters in Leeds and Pittsfield, Mass.
Its mission is to end homelessness among veterans by providing permanent, sustainable, safe, and affordable housing with support services that veterans will own and operate.
Earlier today, the group broke ground for the construction of 39 apartments which will be owned, managed, and occupied by formerly homeless veterans. The project, a $6 million dollar venture involving state, federal, and local housing programs, will incorporate green building design and features that will allow veterans to stay in their homes as they age.
Soldier One will continue to provide mental health, vocational and psychological and social services to the veterans in residence.
Because the project is virtually debt-free, the portion of the veteran’s rent that would have supported debt service will be deposited in individual development accounts for the veterans to earn equity in their homes.