Homeless. Veteran. These two words don’t belong together. How could someone who is willing to die for their country wind up on the streets, kicked to the curb after their service?
How many homeless veterans are in Alabama? I want to draw them all – or as many as possible - and let them tell their stories.
According to an AL.com report in 2018 citing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study, there were 339 homeless veterans in Alabama. Of those, 52 were in the Mobile area. So, it makes sense to start locally.
Those numbers are in flux, of course. Thanks to organizations like Housing First, since last July 151 homeless veterans in the Mobile and Eastern Shore area have been identified and transitioned into apartments.
To kick off this project, we talked with four of these Housing First veterans. We hope their stories will inspire more homeless and formerly homeless veterans to come forward with their stories. (See the video in the story below.)
In the meantime, I’m gonna be searching, listening, learning and sketching.
• Born in Blytheville, Arkansas on Sept. 9, 1954
• U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Division. Served at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Larry tells his story:
“My homeless situation brought me closer to God”
“I was born in Arkansas, cotton fields all around my house. There was no wondering what I was gonna do if I stayed there. I wanted to get away and see the world.”
Edwards joined the Army in 1972, hoping to see the world. Instead, “the Army showed me the big ol’ mosquitoes in Louisiana,” he laughs. “We called it Little Vietnam. It was a good training place.”
Edwards was assigned to the M60 machine guns. Fleet and athletic, he was able to run and dart with the heavy weapons. “But it cost me in terms of my ankles, my feet and my knees,” he said. “I ended up having to go to the infirmary. When I did get out of the military it was a service-connected disability.”
After his service, Edwards went to work driving a forklift for Newlon Metals in Kokomo, Indiana. He retired at 62 and left Indiana for the warm weather of Gulfport, Mississippi. “That’s when things kinda went sour,” he says. “My disability got terminated.”
“My homeless situation brought me closer to God. What happens to me doesn’t matter. How I respond to it makes all the difference.”
“A lot of veterans are committing suicide. There’s depression involved with that - I experienced some of that, too. You go to the VA and let them know about it, and they help as best they can. One of the problems I had was my strong desire for independence,” he grins. “We’re reluctant to reach out for help when we get depressed. It just doesn’t seem like it’s a manly thing to do.”
“Then, there was Housing First – something I wasn’t looking for, didn’t expect. They were able to get me on my feet, get me into an apartment – I was amazed at how fast they did it. I can go to Labor Finders to get work. I can catch the bus to come into town when I need to. I’m very impressed with the service here in Mobile. I’m now in the process of getting my disability back.”
“Being homeless is an isolated experience. A close relationship to God makes all the difference.”
“Is that what you want people to know about you?” I asked.
“It’s what I want people to know about the Lord.”
Mr. Edwards is no longer homeless, but he needs to find work. If you have a job or an opportunity for Larry Edwards, call Housing First (Mobile) @ 251-303-8058 and ask for his case worker.
Do you know of a homeless veteran? Do you know a veteran who is or has been homeless and may be willing to share their story? Send me an email – Jdcrowe@al.com. For homeless housing assistance in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, contact Housing First @ (251)-450-3345. For the Birmingham area, contact PriorityVeteran.org @ (205) 458-8920. For assistance for homeless veterans in the Huntsville area, visit Stand Down together Huntsville, Inc. at www.standdownhsv.org, or call 256-527-9643, or call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838.