NASHUA — For veterans like Mark Carter of Nashua, a helping hand can go a long way.
Carter, along with dozens of other veterans, received some much-needed necessities, support and advice on Wednesday at the sixth annual Stand Down for homeless veterans at Harbor Homes.
Carter, who served in the U.S. Army from 1978 to 1991, knows first-hand the struggles of returning to civilian life. Three years ago, Carter was homeless and living in the woods at Mine Falls Park in Nashua before he was eventually beaten and the camp of tents was shut down shortly thereafter.
"It can get rough out there," said a smiling Carter, who has since been able to secure Section 8 housing with guidance from Harbor Homes. Carter receives a military pension, and says he is extremely grateful for all of the services provided to him in the past few years.
On Wednesday, more than 60 veterans visited Harbor Homes as part of the Stand Down event, taking advantage of many free services and supplies.
"I came for socks, really, and a sweatshirt," said Carter, who was pleased to also be leaving with a large bag of food.
Free flu shots, haircuts, canned food, employment assistance, tax services, personal hygiene items, boots, socks, sleeping bags and blankets were being distributed to veterans willing to accept a little help.
"We seem to have many veterans who have found work and are now looking for help with (Veteran Affairs) home loans," said Andrea Reed of Harbor Homes, crediting Manchester's new Independence Hall with providing additional housing for homeless veterans in New Hampshire.
Some veterans are now going back to school with assistance from the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, added Reed, who said that is a positive step in the right direction.
Steven Vielmas, 23, of Nashua, is one of those veterans. A resident of the Dalianis House, Vielmas says he will be receiving his associate's degree in about four months, at which time he will pursue a bachelor's degree in security management.
"I would eventually like to start my own security consulting firm," said Vielmas, who served in the U.S. Army in 2011 and 2012.
Vielmas says there are a lot of services available to veterans, but many former service members are not aware of the assistance that is out there.
Jeff Kneeland admits it can be difficult thriving in a busy and expensive world. Kneeland, a Nashua veteran, recently had to leave a job because of health reasons. Although he is currently in the process of applying for disability, Kneeland says it may take some time for his situation to turn around for the better.
"I am not on the streets, but I am not far from it," said Kneeland while filling his backpack with some free supplies. "But I am going to make it work. I have to. I just need some luck."
Sometimes it isn't always about luck, but rather seeking out the right sources and the right people for help, according to Reed, who said about 15 agencies and non-profit groups helped donate and provide free services during Wednesday's event hosted by Harbor Homes in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Harbor Homes is a local nonprofit group founded 30 years ago with a mission to create and provide quality residential and supportive services for individuals and their families with mental illness or struggling with homelessness.