‘My kids are the reason I joined the military’

Homeless. Veteran. These two words don’t belong together. How could someone who is willing to die for our country wind up on the streets, kicked to the curb after their service?

How many homeless veterans are in Alabama? 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, where I live. It makes sense to start locally, but I’m looking statewide.

Those numbers are in flux, of course. Thanks to organizations like Housing First, 151 homeless veterans in the Mobile and Eastern Shore area have been identified and transitioned into apartments in the last year. To kick off this project, we talked with some of them.

We hope their stories will inspire more homeless and formerly homeless veterans to come forward with their stories. I want to draw them all and let them tell their stories. (See the video in the story below.)

In the meantime, I’m gonna be searching, listening, learning and sketching.

Jerrell Smith, U.S. Army National Guard, 7 years

Jerrell Smith is an engaging young man with bright eyes and a smile that lights up the room. He was a high school football star in Mobile, with dreams of playing in college. That didn’t work out, and he joined the Army National Guard.

“My kids are the reason I joined the military," he said.

“I loved being in the military. In 2016, I had everything going well. I had my own place, had my own vehicle. I was notified that we had a deployment coming up in my unit, so I got ready for that. I gave up my apartment, gave up my vehicle and found a place for my kids. Gave up my job. Went to mobilization. I was there for two months.

"About two weeks before we were going to get on a plane, they called me to the hospital. They found some things in my blood that shouldn’t be there. The doctor cleared me to go, but the major said even though I didn’t have lupus at the time, he said I could develop it.

Watch Jerrell and the other Housing First veterans tell their stories in this video:

“I gave up everything for this. And when I got back home, I had nothing. Being homeless, days were tough. I was just doing whatever I could to make sure my kids were taken care of. I wasn’t worried about me. As long as they were comfortable and smiling, I was good.

“I’m unable to work right now because of an injury sustained in the military. I was a truck driver, I had a freak accident and it changed my life. My back causes my lower body to go numb. I don’t feel like I’m me anymore.

"Housing First has been great. Also, I’ve gone through physical therapy, and they helped me out a lot. I’m getting better, but I’m not where I was. As a man, it’s hard to ask for help. I tied my shoes, turned my hat back and I ran. I did what I had to do. "

“What do you want people to know about you?” I asked.

"I never gave up. I realized there was a brighter light at the end of the tunnel.”

If you have an opportunity for Jerrell Smith, call Housing First (Mobile) @ 251-303-8058 and ask for his case worker.

Do you know of a homeless veteran in Alabama? 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.

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