Kuster Meets Her New Nashua Neighbors [VIDEO]
As the newest member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Kuster toured Dalainis House then saw her new digs on East Pearl Street.
Congresswoman Annie Kuster on Tuesday toured Nashua's Harbor Homes Inc., a network of non-profit outreaches for low-income residents and veterans in need of an assist.
Kuster was eager to learn more about Harbor Homes and the many layers of services it provides for the community, including a tour of the Daliainis House, which features 32 single units and eight one-bedroom apartments, which help veterans, down on their luck, to reestablish their independence.
John Elsten, 56, came to Dalianis House in February of 2012.
"It was one year ago today I was in Portsmouth with a friend, we were going to make some chili and watch football. I never had a headache in my life, but my temple artery collapsed that day," said Elsten, rubbing a spot on the left side of his head.
Elsten, who has two grown kids ages 19 and 22, was a Vietnam era veteran, serving from 1972-76. He is from Derry.
He said he enjoys the sense of community and camaraderie at Dalianis House.
"All of us here were honorably discharged. I think that's one reason why we all get along. We have that experience of the military in common, and we all know what we need to do here," Elsten said.
After his hospitalization, Elsten also found out he was diabetic, which forced him to pay closer attention to his health. He's grateful for the good food provided, and for the extensive dental work he was able to get, which adds some dazzle to his already contagious smile.
"I'm so blessed," Elsten said.
He has one more year to go at Dalianis House under the two-year housing allowance. He took Kuster for a tour of his small but cozy apartment, which featured lots of patriotic details, from the red-white-and-blue striped afghan on the couch, to some flag-inspired place mats.
One of Elsten's many responsibilities for the Harbor Home community is driving to the food bank to pick up supplies.
"John goes to the food bank, John goes to the grocery store, John works across the street – these guys are such good role models for everybody here," said housing director Michelle Cool, who led the tour with Kuster.
Elsten said he has a lot of family support, but couldn't be happier with his current living situation. He's come a long way in one year.
"My goals? Find a place to live, get a job, and a car, take care of my health. I have a caseworker and we get a lot of help, so I'm not worried," Elsten said.
The need for permanent affordable housing is perhaps the greatest challenge in a city like Nashua, said Bob Tamposi, who serves as the residence program assistant director.
"People can't work for $10-12 an hour and make a living," Tamposi said.
Another veteran, Michael Whitehouse, has also found his niche through Harbor Homes.
Whitehouse served two years in the military, from 2004-2006.
"I signed up when I was 17, after I got a call from a recruiter, and I loved every minute of being in the military. But my transition back to civilian life was rough," said Whitehouse, originally from the Rochester area.
Before coming to Dalianis House, he lived at the homeless shelter in Manchester. Before that, he was living in his car.
"I got into trouble in 2011, when I tried bath salts," said Whitehouse, who said a friend had purchased the chemical substance while it was still being sold legally, and he tried it.
"After that, I lost my apartment, sold everything I owned just for money to get the drugs. But I've been sober since May 7," Whitehouse said.
For all that he lost to the drug, Whitehouse has regained something that gives him a reason to wake up every day, ready to keep moving in the right direction:
His 5-year-old son.
"I had to give up my son to state custody when I moved into the shelter, but now we're back together. He's living with me at Buckingham Place," a Harbor Home residential property for honorably charged veterans and their families.
Like Elsten, Whitehouse is also looking toward the future.
"Housing is expensive, and I'm still working on transportation issues, but after living here, I'm more optimistic now about the future. I think it's all going to work out," Whitehouse said.
Kuster spent about an hour touring the office and residential buildings. She said she was impressed with the program, and is looking forward to being a downtown neighbor to Harbor Homes, once she's officially moved in to her East Pearl Street office.
"My goal as a new member of the Veterans Affairs Committee and Congress is to make sure vets all over New Hampshire have these types of programs – they have so much to offer and they've given so much already to their country, and I want to make that sure we get them the health care they need, and we get them safe housing and if we get them good nutrition and programming and educational training, we know that they're going to give back to their community."
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