Mesa program offers struggling veterans an alternative to the streets

Marine Corps veteran (second from right) received keys to an apartment Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, through a Mesa program aimed at reducing homelessness among veterans. He is joined by (from left) Mesa Mayor John Giles, U.S. Sen. John McCain and Councilman Chris Glover. (Photo by Mitch Quesada/Cronkite News)

MESA – Soon after returning home from the Vietnam War, Marine Corps veteran Larry Hutchison said he found himself on the streets of this Phoenix suburb.

“I spent 30 years on the streets with drugs and alcohol trying to get rid of bad memories that I had,” said Hutchison, adding that he has been sober for the past 10 years.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. John McCain and Mesa Mayor John Giles handed Hutchison the keys to an apartment through a program aimed at housing homeless veterans.

“No veteran should be without a place to sleep,” McCain said. “We all know that.”

Hutchison is the first person to receive shelter through Housing Mesa’s Heroes, a partnership between the city and organizations including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Community Bridges Inc. and the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

“Mr. Hutchison is our first success story, but obviously this is just the beginning,” Mayor John Giles said. “We hope that he is one of many, many people that we are able to help and continue to help.”

Housing Mesa’s Heroes helps connect homeless veterans with federal vouchers providing rental assistance. Other services help them find jobs, make sure they schedule and attend medical appointments and get them into substance abuse treatment.

The federal government launched a program called Open Doors in 2010 targeting chronic homelessness among veterans through partnerships with local governments and organizations. It cites a 33 reduction since then.

Giles, who said he found Hutchison while visiting a soup kitchen, said Mesa has a long history of helping those in need.

“That’s the best thing that we can do as public servants is pay respect to those who deserve it so much,” he said.