Great article written by Lowell Sun Correspondent Marie Donovan, profiling Community Teamwork’s Veterans Specialist, Roland Cartier. Many thanks to the Lowell Sun for the visibility on this issue as our communities prepare for the re-entry of many of our Veterans back into our communities. For the full article, click here..
On front lines for vets in needHomeless. Drinking. He’s been there. Now he helps others rebuild livesBy Marie Donovan, Sun CorrespondentLOWELL — Mike Doyle had been homeless before, and tried to do everything he could to keep a roof over his head.
Then his job with Fannelli Amusements’ traveling carnival ended earlier than expected this year. In October he tried to return to the Lowell Transitional Living Center, only to find staff suspicious he’d fallen off the wagon and spent money he’d never earned.
Doyle was in trouble because of a string of bad luck, not addiction. Someone pointed him to Roland Cartier, veteran-to-veteran peer-support specialist at Community Teamwork Inc.
Like Doyle, Cartier had served his country. And like Doyle, Cartier has survived hard times.
“I was homeless for nine months,” Cartier said.
CTI hired Cartier six months ago to help veterans such as Doyle navigate the red tape. Kristin Ross-Sitcawich, CTI’s homelessness prevention director, worked with Cartier at Pathfinders, where he performed a similar job. She calls him as a “hand-holder.””He tells clients ‘You need this, this, this and this,’ ” she said.
Cartier, 59, helps veterans and their immediate families from the Merrimack Valley obtain the benefits they need: housing and medical benefits, Social Security disability, jobs assistance. Cartier links his clients with veterans agents in CTI’s Greater Lowell communities, and state and congressional representatives.
He will line up job or training opportunities he learns about. If clients need help with addiction, he sets them up with a residential treatment program at the Bedford VA Hospital.
Connecting veterans and services is becoming more important, said CTI Executive Director Karen Frederick. The United States is withdrawing large numbers of troops from Afghanistan. CTI and the veterans-service agents it works with are likely to experience a large new influx of veterans, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities.HE KNOWS WHAT IT’S LIKE: Roland Cartier looks over a camp along the Merrimack River in Lowell on Friday. Once homeless and struggling with alcohol and other problems, Cartier now helps fellow veterans as an outreach specialist at Community Teamwork Inc. Slide show at lowellsun.com. SUN / TORY GERMANN“Having Roland here really allows us to coordinate with the Veterans Administration and the local veterans agents. He helps our veteran clients to better link with services they need,” Frederick said.
Doyle served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1970s. Working as a diesel mechanic, Doyle landed steady work in a Nashua auto-body shop that he thought would allow him to retire financially secure. But in 2008, after more than 20 years on the job and just as the nation’s recession was taking hold, the shop closed.
Doyle had been renting a room from a friend he worked with. The man lost his home to foreclosure.
“When the boss fired everybody and closed his doors, I became homeless,” Doyle said.
With just $84 per week in unemployment benefits, he moved in with his girlfriend for a few years. He struggled without success to find work.
Earlier this year, Doyle and his girlfriend broke up. His unemployment benefits expired.
Doyle found a space at the Lowell Transitional Living Center, until he was hired by the carnival.
Jobless again, he also was homeless again when the center would not take him back in.
Cartier’s path is similar. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam era, married and raised a family in Charlestown. He painted cars, and managed Rent-a-Center businesses. He worked for 10 years at the Bedford VA Hospital, starting in housekeeping and ending up as a medical-supply technician, where he learned how to access veterans benefits.
After his kids were grown, though, his marriage broke up and Cartier, who now has three grandchildren, started drinking his sorrows away.
“I self-medicated myself with alcohol and I had a gambling problem as well,” said Cartier, who has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Three years ago, he got clean while staying at the Transitional Living Center. He worked odd jobs in construction, rock quarrying, framing and roofing to make ends meet.
At CTI, Cartier can help others. He was able to use his connections at the shelter, explaining why Doyle had no money. Doyle had a warm place to sleep for Thanksgiving.
“He had absolutely nothing. I gave him some money, a backpack and what I call skivvies and civvies — underwear and civilian clothes. I’m trying to get him a coat,” Cartier said.
During the summer, Cartier sent out 750 fliers to low-income veterans informing them how to work with CTI to secure fuel assistance.
“Within 24 hours of sending that out, we had 75 phone calls,” Ross-Sitcawich said.
One veteran came to Cartier after the batteries on his wheelchair shorted out.
“He had no use of his hands. He had no use of his feet. WIthin 20 minutes, Roland found two electric wheelchairs that could be made available,” Ross-Sitcawich said.
Another time, Cartier worked with the Dracut veterans agent to line up Habitat for Humanity to help rehab the home of a local veteran who couldn’t afford repairs himself.
“Whenever things work out for people Roland works with, he just beams,” Ross-Sitcawich said.
Cartier can be reached at 978-237-1487 for inquiries about veterans assistance.