South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Rotary responds to 'moving target' of veterans' needs

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SOUTH PORTLAND — For the third consecutive year, the Rotary Club of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth has provided supplemental assistance to homeless veterans across Maine. 

According to a study by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans in early 2014, nearly 50,000 veterans across the U.S. were homeless on “any given day.” 

In Maine, that number is estimated to be around 100. Emergency shelters across the state reported providing shelter to approximately 500 homeless veterans in 2013, according to a statement released by the VA in late January.

“It’s a major issue,” said Dan Davidson, Rotary member and chairman of the Homeless Veterans Committee. “Nobody has really looked into it and nobody has really understood the big picture of just show much of a difficulty this is for the men and women who have served their country.” 

In late January the Rotary donated nearly $1,300 in the form of bus passes, another near $1,300 in gas cards, $600 in Hannaford gift cards, and 16 sets of bedding to the Veterans Assistance Maine Homeless Veterans Program.

The partnership between the Rotary and the program is pretty straightforward, Davidson said.

Three years ago, when Davidson and other members of the committee settled on the Togus-based branch of the VA, they approached Susan Whittington, the transitional housing liaison for the VA, and asked her “‘What are your primary unmet needs?’,” Davidson said last week. 

“We wanted to know what they could not do on their own, and they gave us a list of things that they felt would be very beneficial and helped us divide (the Rotary’s funding),” he said.

Funding for the donations is allocated from general funds raised by the Rotary through its annual events, in addition to “people from the outside giving us donations to apply to these things, which we’re happy to accept,” Davidson said. 

The Rotary provides donations to the VA on an as-needed basis, which typically ends up being twice a year. 

“I will be coordinating very shortly with Susan to see what their needs are now, as compared to what they were six months ago, and we’ll try to satisfy those. It’s kind of a moving target,” Davidson said.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.