A feature story highlighting three veteran residing at Ozanam Inn, the homeless men’s shelter at St. Vincent de Paul.
A Snapshot of Some of the Vets at Ozanam Inn
“I didn’t know where to go. I was reaching for every resource I could.” Phillip, a U.S. Air Force veteran, found himself homeless after a long-term relationship ended. On disability due to kidney failure and no less than three dialysis treatments a week, he struggled to find a job that would accommodate his treatment schedule and cover the basics like rent.
That’s when the Veteran’s Administration referred Phillip to St. Vincent de Paul’s VA program at Ozanam Inn, our men’s shelter.
Unfortunately, Phillip’s circumstances are not uncommon. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 11 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans.
At Ozanam Inn we have 20 beds and a program dedicated to veterans and have housed vets from every war and conflict since World War II. While here, the men are encouraged to address health issues (both physical and mental), continue treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, find employment, and ultimately move on to permanent housing.
A newcomer to the program, Brian said, “I didn’t want to ask for help, but I’m glad I got it.” After stints in the Marines and the Army National Guard with tours in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, and fighting wildfires stateside, Brian was struck by a truck while with his inactive unit in Florida. The accident damaged his right leg, ended his military career and left him on disability. Like Phillip, he found himself without a place to live. His spirit is undeterred, however. Brian said, “Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back like this to reset everything to have a better life down the road. Clear the board. Start from scratch. But keep some principles about being a real human being.”
Roy, a pressman for 24 years, served in the Army Reserve. After a divorce, finding himself on disability, and losing his home, Roy ended up homeless in Bullitt county with limited access to resources. After moving to Louisville and connecting with the VA, he was referred to our program. Roy has struggled with depression for the past 15 years, but while staying at Ozanam he sought treatment and is finding success. “This is the first time since high school that everything feels normal.”
Help is Available
In addition to treatment for mental and physical health issues, the vets also have access to legal aid, therapeutic supported employment services, and access to life skills classes. The support doesn’t stop there.
Cassidy Kennedy, Program Manager at Ozanam Inn, says of the vets, “If your neighbor needs something, you’re there helping them. There’s some ribbing among the branches, but when it comes down to it, they’re all brothers.”
Cassidy says that completing the program doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help. “If they move out and call us and don’t have enough money for food or need winter clothes, we’ll take care of them. We do whatever we can.”
Support also comes from those that have been here before. She adds, “Former clients that have moved on will let current clients know about jobs, donate clothes for interviews, and will take them under their wing.”
Thanks to VA grants, the program has seen improvements in the rooms dedicated to our vets. New floors, walls patched and painted, lockers, lamps, and new washers and dryers help to make the vets’ stay with us more like home.
Other improvements are on the horizon for Ozanam Inn as we undertake a $215,000 renovation project. Thanks to donors, St. Vincent de Paul was able to secure a matching grant from Louisville Metro Government to make the much-needed repairs.
The Work Continues
While the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) shows a 5.4 percent decrease in veteran homelessness since 2017, there is still much work to be done. Phillip says, “If you can get up today, you can make something happen. As long as you’ve got that next day, something can change.”