In 1990, a small “band of brothers,” Vietnam veterans, alarmed at seeing their fellow veterans living in alleys and under bridges, incorporated Veterans Inc. (then the Central Massachusetts Shelter for Homeless Veterans). In October 1991, the group received the keys to the historic Massachusetts National Guard Armory from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with a contract to lease the building for a dollar per year. Abandoned for about 12 years, the building had been condemned and was slated for demolition. In four months, the veterans collected $17,000 in cash donations, and with the help of volunteers, including labor unions, completed $250,000 worth of renovations.
With an all-volunteer staff, the doors opened to nine homeless Vietnam veterans on January 20, 1992. The building was still in such bad shape that only a small section of the first floor was used. The utilities were non-functioning, the windows blown out, walls had collapsed, and the roof was pierced by huge holes. Rumor has it that every pigeon in the City of Worcester lived at 69 Grove Street. But these humble living conditions were better than the alternative for many.
As the first years passed, Veterans Inc. repaired the building a little at a time. Most of the work was performed by the residents and volunteers. An estimated $6 million in volunteer and donated services has been invested over the past 24 years to rescue the historic building and expand services for veterans.
In 1993, Lt. Colonel Vincent J. Perrone was named president of the organization, a position he still holds today. He recruited Board member Denis Leary (former director of the Substance Abuse Center at Community Healthlink), and the two lifelong friends took the fledgling organization from $100,000 in debt to operating in the black in less than a year.
They expanded the agency’s focus to include veterans of all eras and women veterans. In fact, Veterans Inc. was the first facility in the nation to offer in-house services to female veterans (in 1994).
Soon after assuming leadership of the organization, Vin and Denis realized that a 30-day “alcohol and substance free” emergency shelter – even if it put a roof over the veterans’ heads and food in their stomachs – was not enough to keep veterans off the streets.
First of all, homelessness couldn’t be solved if the veterans had no income. Some veterans moved out only to end up back at the shelter. So, the Employment & Training program was created, including partnerships with employers that resulted in better jobs.
Furthermore, if mental health support or physical rehabilitation was not provided, , the veterans often couldn’t hold jobs or adapt to living on their own after leaving the shelter. So, Health & Wellness services were added.
This “triangle of needs” – housing, employment and health – evolved into a comprehensive program of supportive services that addressed the myriad of issues veterans contend with. This model was developed and refined over the years into the nationally recognized clinical model employed at Veterans Inc. today.
This holistic approach entails providing every possible service, from legal advice to disability benefit applications, all under the auspices of a case manager, who works with every veteran to create a treatment plan tailored to that individual’s strengths and challenges.
In 2009, the organization was renamed Veterans Inc. in recognition of its new program in Vermont and its imminent plans to expand into other neighboring states. The grassroots, all-volunteer operation of 1990 has grown into a professional, comprehensive, award-winning organization that provides care to thousands of veterans and their families every year.