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US veterans in Massachusetts wage war on peers’ homelessness

By Dave Jolivet
Posted: 8/28/2009

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (CNS) -- The Pledge of Allegiance concludes with the statement that America is a land "with liberty and justice for all."

That statement, however, is being tested by a disturbing statistic showing that most homeless people in New Bedford are veterans, according to Dan LaBlanc, a retired Marine who served in Vietnam and currently heads the local Department of Veterans Services.

But a group of veterans is doing something to help their homeless peers in the Whaling City, as it's known.

For the past nine years, members of Welcome Home Veterans Housing Inc. have been pursuing affordable, safe and permanent housing for them.

Led by a Vietnam veteran and former first lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, Kathleen M. Splinter, the Welcome Home group has secured an out-of-service sweater mill that is being transformed into 19 apartments for U.S. veterans in need.

Splinter is president of the housing organization and also a parishioner at Notre Dame Parish in Fall River.

"We must take care of our veterans, especially those in need," said Splinter, who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in 1969 for outstanding service to her patients. She said the nine-year process to get the housing project off the ground was "full of twists and turns."

The housing unit will be named the Sean Brooke House after an Army combat medic who on his way back to his base following a charity function was killed by a drunk driver in Hawaii in 2005.

Before his death, Brooke served a 14-month tour of duty in Iraq, treating U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

At a ground-breaking ceremony, Splinter said she could relate to Brooke since they both served wounded soldiers in combat.

"I got to know Sean and felt a camaraderie with him and his work," she said. "Those who knew him prayed for his safe return from Iraq, and cheered when he made it back in one piece." Then tragedy struck. "Our hearts go out to the Brooke family and we're proud to name this unit after him," she said.

Father Robert A. Oliveira, pastor of Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in New Bedford and an honorary member of Welcome Home Veterans Housing, gave the closing blessing at the ceremony.

"May the veterans who inhabit this house be blessed with hope as they share their life stories with one another," he said.

The Sean Brooke House is expected to be ready for residents to move in by next summer.

"All of the residents will meet requirements," Splinter told The Anchor, newspaper of the Fall River Diocese. She said they'll go through background checks and will have to meet federal income guidelines.

She said that shortly after the Iraq War began, the Welcome Home group began corresponding with Brooke, who was from Minnesota. His parents, brother and sister attended the ceremony.

Among the partners in the financing and construction of the residence were the Welcome Home group, local companies and banks, and state economic development and housing agencies.