We are excited to introduce MHSA’s new Veteran In-Reach Peer Specialist, Edwin (Eddie) Meléndez. Eddie focuses on engaging homeless veterans within community-based organizations. He links veterans to appropriate housing and services, and he assists them in securing federal, state and municipal benefits. Eddie draws on years of experience in the nonprofit sector, where he worked on a variety of issues, including homelessness, substance abuse, behavioral health challenges, and family dynamics. Eddie also served in the Marines during peacetime. He has his M.Ed in Counseling and Psychology and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies (CAGS) in Advanced Mental Health Studies from Cambridge College.
In the Q&A below, we interview Eddie and learn more about his dedication to ending homelessness among veterans.
What is your role as MHSA’s new Veteran In-Reach Peer Specialist?
As Veteran In-Reach Peer Specialist, I advocate for displaced veterans who are in need of a variety of services, including case management, substance abuse and mental health services, education, and housing. My goals are to identify homeless veterans, establish access and coordination of services, and navigate individual veterans through the complex channels of acquiring both veteran-specific and mainstream benefits.
What motivated you to work in the nonprofit sector after your time in the Marines?
My original goal was to become a police officer. However, after enlisting in the Marines, I sustained a back injury and was honorably discharged early in 1987. Upon receiving my honorable discharge, I did some soul searching. I’ve always been motivated to work with people from all backgrounds, especially in the nonprofit sector. I love to help people, and I want to be able to give back to others in whatever way I can. At the end of the day, it’s all about being able to look into the mirror and be happy because you know you gave 110% of yourself and were able to make a difference, no matter how large or small. We often plant seeds, and though we may not see the end result, we know that eventually the planted seed will grow into a beautiful tree with a strong foundation.
Before joining MHSA, I worked as a dual diagnosis clinician with Casa Esperanza, a nonprofit organization in the heart of Roxbury which focuses on substance abuse, mental health and transitional placement for the Hispanic community. While at Casa Esperanza, I advocated for individuals who were being discharged from incarceration or dealing with homelessness, substance abuse or mental health concerns. I’ve also worked for a number of other nonprofits that serve veterans, children and homeless individuals.
Why are you passionate about working with veterans experiencing homelessness?
I have always been passionate about my service in the Marines, even if it was only brief. I remember growing up with my brother and other family members serving in the Armed Forces. The military has always excited me, and without the Marines, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. The Marines gave my life a purpose and structure, and I ended up with a better outlook on life. Besides God being first in my life, then my family, I place the Marines and all Armed Forces branches on a high pedestal. We are all brothers and sisters, and it is with honor and pride that I am able to serve homeless veterans with dignity and respect!
How can veterans connect with the Veterans Homeless In-Reach Peer Project?
Veterans can connect with the Veteran Homeless In-Reach Peer Project easily by calling me at 617-367-6447 ext. 12 or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to meet with veterans at MHSA or their local service provider. I will also conduct regular outreach to shelters, hospitals, veteran’s agencies, and other organizations to spread the word about the program.