From our Community

One Homeless Veteran’s Story

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Taken from Dan Abshear’s account of homelessness as a veteran: 

“Today, I’ve been homeless for a little over two and a half years. In the beginning, I stayed with friends, but it wasn’t comfortable. Those friends didn’t understand how I became homeless, and our relationships were fractured. Those stays were brief and unpleasant. 

That was why I moved to homeless shelters. For the last seven months, I have been living at a Salvation Army shelter, on a floor for homeless veterans recovering from drug addiction. The floor houses 40 of us, and is comfortable. It has TVs, refrigerators, microwaves, and even two phones and two computers. There is a disproportionate number of African American veterans at the shelter.

As homeless veterans, we get food stamps on top of the meals the Salvation Army provides. For some at this location, obesity is a problem – as much a result of the meds they’re on as the extra food. A lot of the vets here try to claim disability benefits for mental illnesses. Whether they truly have them is up for debate, but their VA psychiatrists prescribe a cocktail of toxic medications all the same. 

Many of the people staying at this location are not very literate, so they do not utilize the computers. I never watched much TV, so I am on the computers a lot. I spend long days looking for jobs and helping the others to write resumes, cover letters, letters to lawyers, and applications for VA benefits. They pay me in cigarettes. 

Making money when you’re homeless is difficult, we’re unemployable for a variety of reasons. Any money I have made as a homeless person has been untraceable and typically involves cleaning or helping out political candidates during election time. These opportunities are rare. I use the extra cash to buy cigarettes and cards and stamps so I can write to my daughter.

Many of the homeless veterans I have stayed with spend a lot of their lives incarcerated, often for drug offenses. Once you are incarcerated for a felony drug charge, you lose your right to food stamps. I still don’t understand why, you still need to eat while you recover.”

Dan’s unapologetic account of his experience with homelessness, poverty, and drugs shows just how difficult it is for some veterans to re-adjust to civilian life. The prejudice surrounding both homelessness and drug addiction means that, for soldiers like Dan, the best they can hope for is a nice shelter and a few extra dollars to write to their kids. 

These men and women risked their lives for us, and they deserve better. By bravely telling his story, Dan is helping to break down the stigma, to show us the person behind the homeless, recovering drug addict. It might seem small, but this one courageous act has the power to touch hundreds of lives. 

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