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? 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. 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 August 13, 1958
U.S. Navy, Aircraft Carrier USS Eisenhower, 1977-1981
Brandon tells his story:
“I still bleed red, white and blue”
“I was in (the Navy) at the end of the Carter Administration when the Shah of Iran got ousted and the Ayatollah took the hostages. I got out in February of ’81 right after Ronald Reagan got into office.
I started building ships and oil rigs and yachts and things like that. I worked at Atlantic Marine in the Alabama shipyard, worked for Halter Marine, Trinity Yachts and Trinity Marine, and Eastern over in Florida. I got certified for doing hydraulics.
I had four children and life was pretty good. I owned my trailer over in Mississippi. Someone bought the property and closed the place down. Then he brought in heavy equipment and started destroying the trailers. I sold my trailer to someone who could move it off the property before it was destroyed.
I’ve been homeless for about three years. I was in the military during peacetime, which they blatantly point out, so I get a lot of patronization – “Oh, everything’s gonna be alright …”
I’ve been really depressed for several years. I’ve been to the psych places, but they want to treat it with psychotic medicine. But that’s not what I need. I need to be able to take care of myself and the mental thing will take care of itself. They want to treat the symptom instead of the problem.”
While homeless, King slept in his truck and stayed with his brother every now and then. He has moved around from Mississippi to Louisiana and now Alabama, where he has a son, daughter and three grandchildren. He is in an apartment through Housing First, but he considers it “kind of a patch.” He wants regular work so he can afford to live independently.
“I’ve been applying for jobs, but I haven’t been hired anywhere. Everything seems so long and drawn out. I feel like a hamster on a treadmill. It makes you lose your own self-worth. That’s basically where I stand right now. All I can do is trust in God and hope there’s a solution somewhere down the line.
I should be teaching young men who have the youth and the energy to do things that I know. I would like to pass my knowledge on to them. Pipe fitting, tube bending, hydraulics – I can build just about anything that you can look around and see.”
“What do you want people to know about you?” I asked.
“I say thank you to God every morning when I wake up that I woke up on the right side of the dirt. I still bleed red, white and blue and I love America and what it stands for – for us and the rest of the world. I love the Lee Greenwood song: I’m proud to be an American, God bless the USA.”