WILLIAMSTOWN — Two decades of providing shelter and services for military veterans will end on Sept. 30 when the Turner House closes its doors: The facility's board of directors decided June 29 to cease operations at the 825 Simonds Road facility.
"It's not about failure," said Turner House Executive Director Scott Haskell." The Veterans Administration has really done a tremendous job of decreasing veteran homelessness nationwide. That's it in a nutshell; the VA has done a great job and has tried to be as local as possible."
While the VA has increased funding for permanent housing, the support for temporary, or "grant per diem" shelter, decreased. Small programs like Turner House struggle to maintain financial viability, said board member David Larabee.
Larabee is one of the founders of Turner House. He noted that times have changed since 1992, when veteran Ferman Turner signed ownership of the house over to the Richard A. Ruether American Legion Post 152.
"Back in the mid-1990s, there was no Soldier On in Pittsfield; there was nothing for homeless veterans," Larabee said. "Things changed. Soldier On does it all: transitional housing, permanent housing; they offer services, they are a big organization."
Soldier On is a non-profit organization assisting veterans with substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues contributing to homelessness. The entity has a 165-bed shelter in Leeds, a 71-bed transitional facility in Pittsfield and a Pittsfield-based George H. Mansfield permanent housing complex.
There are six people living at Turner House, Haskell said. He believes that three individuals know where they will go when the shelter closes, he said.
"I've tried to be very clear with the guys that things were changing and why," Haskell said.
A VA focus on acquiring permanent housing means more homeless veterans may qualify for Veteran Affairs Supported Housing vouchers, Haskell said. The program is operated in conjunction with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Turner House is not on a Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus route, nor is it close to a Veterans Administration medical facility, which are disadvantages, Haskell said.
The board members are considering all options for future plans, Haskell and Larabee said. Assisting veterans is a priority, both agreed.
"I know we want to do something that helps veterans," Larabee said. "It's too soon to tell exactly what's next."