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Once on the street, 1,000 vets have found a home, according to Walsh

Rene Lavoie, an Army Reserve, kissed his granddaughter, Rilynn, 5, in New Bedford.
Rene Lavoie, an Army Reserve, kissed his granddaughter, Rilynn, 5, in New Bedford.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Rene Lavoie, who was honorably discharged from the US Army Reserve three decades ago after breaking a leg, found himself going through a rough spell about two years ago.

He was drinking too much and fighting with family members. He wound up in the New England Center and Home for Veterans, and bounced between there and another Boston shelter.

But in a matter of months, the 55-year-old New Bedford native said, he got help with doctors appointments and other services. Lavoie made amends with family, specifically his two sons and their families.

And last year, after several months on a waiting list, he received a housing voucher and found a place to live in Revere.

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Leading into Memorial Day, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration announced late last week that it has now provided permanent housing for 1,000 formerly homeless veterans like Lavoie, a milestone in a Boston’s Way Home plan to end all chronic homelessness, and particularly among veterans.

“It’s comforting to know that, at this age, I have a place to go to,” Lavoie said in an interview Saturday, as he planned to spend Memorial Day Weekend with one of his sons and two grandchildren in New Bedford.

“It’s nice to know that when I leave here, I’m going to a steady place that’s safe,” said Lavoie, who worked as a commercial fisherman in the past.

Walsh said in a statement Friday that, “Our goal is to ensure that everyone in Boston has a place to call home.” He added, though, that “there is still work to be done.’’

The mayor launched Boston’s Way Home in 2015 as a strategic plan to end chronic homelessness, by using a “housing first” approach that puts people on a pathway to stable housing the moment they enter the shelter system, without the conditions that they stay sober or participate in treatment services. With housing as a priority, community advocates and city agencies then redirect resources and services to meet their needs.

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Though the effort is to help all people living on the streets, the program emphasizes helping veterans.

The housing plan calls for the city to provide immediate shelter to any veteran on the street who wants it, as well as a path to permanent housing. The city has partnered with several affordable-housing owners to give housing preferences to veterans.

The city says on its website that it had provided housing to 1,805 individuals under the plan since 2015, including the 1,000 veterans.

In 2018, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found in an annual report covering the previous year that Boston has among the lowest rates of homeless veterans in the country, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs certified the city in 2016 as having ended chronic homelessness among veterans. People are considered chronically homeless if they have a disability, mental or physical, and have been living in an emergency shelter or on the street for 12 months or more, or if they have been homeless on multiple occasions within a three-year span.

There is no way to say how many veterans are homeless, because that condition is constantly in flux. But the city’s annual census of homelessness in January found 290 veterans who said they were homeless.

According to a city review, veterans who end up homeless are on average 52 years old and most are male. Many served in the Vietnam War, as well as in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. At least one veteran who recently received help served in the military in 1948, while others have served as recently as 2013.

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Andrew McCawley, CEO of the New England Center and Home for Veterans, said the city’s efforts have “made a real difference in the lives of veterans here in Boston.”

“Over 1,000 veterans housed is a very impressive number,” he said, “but what is most meaningful is the independence and dignity that this work returns to veterans.”

Lavoie said many of the veterans he met at the Boston shelters have experienced hardships that disrupted their lives, leaving them on the streets. But the services the center provides have helped many of them, he said, including himself.

“It’s just a more secure feeling now,” he said. “If they’ve placed 1,000 men [in homes], they’ve done something.”


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.