I was born and raised on the Island. I’m from Oak Bluffs, as my father was, and my grandfather. I grew up in Oak Bluffs, graduated in 1986, and right after that, I left to go into the service with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division for four years.
I came back; between work and other things, my girlfriend and I decided to move away so she could get better work. At the time I had hurt my foot so I couldn’t work, so we moved to Natick, where I used my GI Bill and went to college, and after that I moved to New Hampshire because I had a job opportunity there.
I’ve tried to come home a couple times, and either rented a basement apartment or lived with somebody else, or this and that, and I just wasn’t happy. At my age, I didn’t want to live in somebody’s basement, so I had to move. So I packed up all my stuff and moved down to Charleston, S.C., because housing down here is a lot cheaper, and you have a bit more options obviously, and it’s very veteran-friendly down here. The Island isn’t very veteran-friendly, it’s starting to be, but it’s not. I was commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for three years. During the parade they’re out waving and thanking, but other than that it’s not very vet-friendly, so I came here.
You can’t find housing, you can’t afford it. I’m a disabled veteran, a combat veteran, and even with my money I’m getting with the government, I can’t afford to live on the Island if I can find a place. It’s ridiculous I just couldn’t afford it. It’s tough for a lot of people. If you’re a disabled veteran and you can’t work, you can’t afford to live on the Island.
It sucks because my whole family’s there. My mother’s passed, but my father’s there, my sister’s there, you know. It’s tough being in Charleston, because my dad’s in his eighties, and I would like to spend time with him, but I can’t. It’s crazy.
I had a contract through a guy who was working for the U.S. Post Office, and my boss brought all the mail to the Island, and I trucked it around to the different Post Offices. I was commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). I’ve been a part of the community my entire life. To this day I’m still involved with the VFW on-Island. I stay in touch with the guys, I’m a lifetime member there, and I run the Facebook page from Charleston.
I’m still part of the Island, that’s my home — it always will be. It’s just difficult. It’s hard for veterans. When you live in America and you’re a veteran, there’s so many programs and options you have off-Island with the Veterans Affairs as far as finding housing and other things. On the Vineyard they don’t have that; the veterans are on their own there. Any veteran on the Island is connected to the Providence, R.I., VA, not Boston. The doctor only comes down once a month, and tries to see as many veterans as he can, but they have limited time.
I know there is a group of Islanders that are trying to work on Vineyard housing. They’ve been pushing hard to find properties to turn into veterans housing. Hopefully by the end of the year they’ll be able to put people in housing, but as of right now we have nothing.
When I was home, I knew several guys that lived in the State Forest. Everyone knew it, young guys that just got back and didn’t have anything to do, so they camped in the State Forest. They were staying in the State Forest because they couldn’t find a place. I would say 80 percent of the Island has no clue we have veterans staying in tents in the State Forest. It’s not brought to their attention.
I know everyone and their uncle is trying to find a place to live for affordable housing, elderly housing, or whatever. It’s difficult for everybody. Nobody wants to take a house you can get $3,000 a month for and give it to a veteran for $1,500, you know.
Nobody’s doing anything wrong; there’s just no place to live. Hopefully we’ll get properties for veterans housing, but no one’s going to give up their house for half-price. I just hope the Island doesn’t get to the point where the people who actually do the work on the Island can’t live there. People can make more money in the two months of the summer than renting it year-round, and they’ll close it up for the winter.
People who rent houses for the winter, that’s great, but then you’ve got to be out for June, July, August, September, and then where are you going to go? I lived like that. Twice a year I would move. Me and my buddy would rent a house all winter and then scramble to find a place for the summer. It just got too old for me to do that.
I don’t think they realize on-Island we have these heroes coming home and they have no place to live. They’re living in basements and the State Forest because they love the Island, or they have family here and they don’t know what else to do.
Interviewed by Brian Dowd.