AUGUSTA — Across the country tens of thousands of veterans are sleeping in the streets.

Maine is far from immune to the problem. Hundreds of veterans, many with mental health issues stemming from their time in the service, are homeless. Roughly 30 percent of today’s veterans come home with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. They’re also twice as likely to be homeless.

A new project led by Volunteers of America Northern New England, a Brunswick-based nonprofit, hopes to alleviate that. On May 19, the organization broke ground on an ambitious $4.2 million housing project that will create 21 new “Cabin in the Woods” style homes for homeless Maine veterans.

The project, which first started seven years ago, should be complete by the end of the year.

The cabins will all be ADA-accessible, energy efficient, and located on the grounds of the Togus VA Medical Center. Once completed, the development will have 16 one-bedroom and five two-bedroom cabins spread over 11 acres. Once a veteran is selected to be housed, they essentially get a home to call their own for as long as they want.

“We believe everyone deserves a forever home,” said June Koegel, president and CEO of Volunteers of America, Northern New England. “Maine’s homeless veterans and their families will soon have a place they can call home.”

That home will be in a prime location for any veteran in need of regular medical care. Located on the Togus campus, the cabins are within walking distance of the facility.

Ryan Lilly, director of the Togus VA, was integral to making the project a reality.

“This is, indeed, a great day for us as a system and the state of Maine,” said Lilly.

Togus has never done housing before, he said, but looks forward to making it work for dozens of Maine veterans.

Former Congressman Mike Michaud was also on hand to congratulate those present for the hard work they’ve done.

Melissa Morrill led the project for VOA, and cited funding as one of the most difficult parts. The project is entirely new for Maine, and had to navigate multiple agencies and secure funding from many avenues to become a reality.

She credited generous donations from charitable and federal organizations for the project’s success. In particular, the Home Depot Foundation’s donation of $225,000 and a grant of $201,000 from Veterans Affairs helped push the project over the edge and make it a reality.

“This is a place we want veterans to be able to put down roots,” said Morrill. “That’s our hope.”

The location is intended to be a unique combination of isolation and ease of access. Each resident will have a cabin on their own, in a forested area. However, the nearby Kennebec Explorer bus service will be making frequent stops, allowing veterans easy access to surrounding communities, if they need it.
“The Kennebec Explorer has already committed to transporting people with frequent stops,” said Morrill.

Plenty of veterans were on hand to hear the good news and celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony. Jim Bachelder, chair of the Maine Veterans of Foreign Wars homeless veteran committee, said, “We thought about using that pine grove at the corner. I’ve been looking forward to a project like this for 15 years.”

Bachelder works directly with other veterans and the VFW to find ways to alleviate the homelessness that plagues many former service members. Often, he’s seen veterans who become accustomed to living on the fringes of society or hunker down in their comfortable areas. Getting them into affordable housing, like what Cabin in the Woods will provide, is key.

“It’s the thing that you have to have,” he said.

The selection process for the housing is ongoing. For more information on the project, or to donate, visit Cabin in the Woods website