Friday, February 16, 2024

Jane Pringle: Supporting our veterans amid Maine’s housing crisis

By State Rep. Jane Pringle

Recently, Maine has made national headlines for our housing initiatives, with much being said about what has and has not been done to alleviate the availability and affordability crises. From a shortage in housing stock to a construction workforce deficit, the problem is multifaceted and has impacted every corner of our state.

As a physician, I see the connection between an individual's housing status and their physical and mental health. Housing is a human right, and Maine’s shortage of available housing is a public health concern.

State Rep. Jane Pringle
I have heard from several constituents who were particularly concerned about how the housing initiatives passed last session will benefit our unhoused veterans, so I want to briefly detail a couple of measures we enacted to help support access to housing for those who have served our country.

A significant success from last session was the creation of a statewide Housing First Program. Modeled after the Preble Street service of the same name, this statewide initiative will provide shelter and on-site services to those experiencing chronic homelessness. It is guided by the ethos that individuals need a safe place to live before they can begin to search for a job or attend to their health issues. This model is revolutionary because it does not require participants to graduate through a series of classes or programs prior to starting to receive housing assistance.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has marked the Housing First model as pivotal in helping veterans find and secure stable housing. It is a low-barrier approach that can provide veterans struggling with destabilizing conditions the assistance they need as quickly as possible. Housing First has been shown to have significant economic benefits to communities as well. With an increase in secure housing for folks experiencing homelessness, there is a decrease in public costs associated with crisis centers and hospital stays. Studies have shown that the model has effectively shortened stays in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons, resulting in overall societal cost savings.

Another bill that was enacted last session provides a one-time investment of $2.6 million to support veterans’ homes throughout Maine. The measure had significant bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. By investing in these facilities across the state, our servicemembers will be more able to receive the critical support they deserve.

On the local level, we are fortunate to have the Windham Veterans Center, a community center in town that offers classes and assists veterans with filing and appealing their insurance claims. In collaboration with national organizations like Disabled American Veterans, this local center prioritizes supporting our veterans in need.

While the measures enacted last year represent strong legislative steps to end veteran homelessness and bolster funding for veterans’ homes, there is still much work to be done. The road ahead requires sustained commitment and additional measures. I look forward to continuing to support housing initiatives, so that all Mainers – and especially those who have so selflessly served our country – can find a safe, secure place to call home.

Rep. Jane Pringle is serving her second non-consecutive term in the Maine House of Representatives, having previously served from 2012-2014. She is currently a member of the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee in the 131st Maine Legislature.

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