What one Veteran who experienced homelessness for 30 years wants other Veterans to know.
As a Navy Veteran who served at the end of the Vietnam War searching for Prisoners of War, Mr. B learned early in his life what he had to do to survive in extreme conditions. With piercing blue eyes that seem to look right into your soul and an American flag bandanna wrapped around his walker, Mr. B sits down at the VOA Office in Conroe, TX to talk about his experience with homelessness over the past 30 years.
"I first became homeless in the late 1980s," said Mr. B. "I began sleeping under bridges in Huntsville, TX, experiencing everything from hurricanes to ice storms." Though he found temporary shelter in 2006, it was solely to take care of his mother who had fallen ill at the time. After her passing later that year, Mr. B once again found himself back on the streets.
In September 2016, Mr. B spent six months in a rehabilitation nursing facility after having surgery to put a rod into his leg. At this point in his life, he began to realize that being unsheltered was no longer an option and he needed to start a new chapter. Career and Recovery Resources, Inc. outreach team members working with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program met Mr. B and connected him with the VOA Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program that houses individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
"The VOA has been really good to me," said Mr. B. "Bertie especially - there's nothing they won't do for you here. Bertie and I immediately connected, and this place was the best thing that could have happened to me." Bertie works as Mr. B's Housing Program Case Manager at VOA and played an integral part of getting him housed a year ago.
Mr. B admits that the transition from homelessness to having a place he could call his own was a bit of an adjustment. "It took me about six months to get used to it. At first I didn't really want to come into the program. I was scared of what my future would look like."
After being in the program for over a year, Mr. B. kept repeating how much he wants other Veterans to be open to trying it," They don't have to stay, but they should at least give it a shot." Mr. B. hopes to one day be able to meet other Veterans experiencing homelessness and share his story with them so they can see that although change is scary, it can be worth it. Not only does he now have transportation to his medical appointments, but he can go grocery shopping regularly and is getting back into a normal routine again.
The conversation flows back to memories Mr. B. had with his late mother. With a smile on his face he talks about her pecan pie that was to die for, and the fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes that, along with some mayo, made the best sandwich he had ever tasted. He hopes to be able to take up cooking again as a hobby, to honor her memory.
As Mr. B. gets ready to head back to his home for the evening, he jokes with Linda, an SSVF Case Manager at VOA and Tim, another VOA staff member, about giving them his signature now that he is "famous" from his interview for this blog; he says his autograph will only cost them $200. Laughter echoes through the halls and they ask him how much he held back during his interview. Mr. B. looks at them with a smirk on his face and says, "I was myself, just like always."