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Living Life At Rock Bottom: A Homeless Veteran's Story

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Message Dan Abshear

As of today, I've been homeless for a bit over two and a half years.

Right after becoming homeless, I tried to stay with friends. But that never seemed to be a comfortable situation for me. Such friends did not understand how I became homeless, so my relationship with such friends was often fractured, I'm sad to say. Such friends also included former lovers. No situation staying with such friends ever worked. My stay with such friends was often brief and unpleasant for me.

So I began staying at a homeless shelter--specifically, a shelter contracted by the veterans administration because, by definition, I am a homeless veteran. This meant I was living with several other people at the same location. It's community living, and this is something I had not experienced since my days in the military.

For the past several months, I've been staying at a Salvation Army. The VA contracted a floor at this Salvation Army for homeless veterans who are recovering drug addicts. In addition to being homeless, I am also a recovering drug addict. This floor holds about 40 homeless veterans. It is a comfortable place to stay. At this location, the homeless veterans have three TVs, four refrigerators, two microwaves, two phones, and two computers.

In addition to the Salvation Army providing meals for us, we, as homeless veterans, also often have food stamps. We would often buy additional food for us to have where we lived to supplement the meals provided to us where we stayed with these food stamps. So with many homeless veterans at this location, obesity was a problem.

This obesity experienced by many other veterans staying with me at the Salvation Army was not only due to the additional food available to these now overweight homeless veterans, but also due to the medication these veterans would often take, as prescribed to them by their VA psychiatrists, often. Such medications would often cause them to gain weight.

Many veterans I stay with at this Salvation Army were trying to get disability benefits for mental illnesses. So they would be diagnosed with various mental health disease states by their VA psychiatrists and take these often toxic mediations as prescribed to them. Whether or not such veterans actually had such mental illnesses is a topic of debate. Regardless, because they wanted mental health disability benefits, they would be diagnosed with a variety of mental health illnesses and take often many drugs for these illnesses.

Usually, the TVs at the Salvation Army where we stayed were designated for specific topics by the veterans. One TV would be for those who wish to watch sports. Another TV would be dedicated to those veterans who wished to watch the news or TV shows. And another TV would be dedicated for those who wish to watch movies.

Often, the homeless veterans would get bootleg DVD movies. These would be movies currently playing in theatres acquired by some veterans on DVD disks. Don't ask me how certain veterans acquired these movies, but it was nice watching current movies where I stayed.

Myself, I never watched much TV, so I was on the computers at this location often. Many I stayed with at this Salvation Army were not very literate, so they did not utilize the computers available to us.  During the long days at the Salvation Army, I would look for jobs on these computers, and often help many other homeless veterans write whatever they may want written. This would include letters such veterans wanted to receive additional VA benefits, cover letters they wanted me to create for certain jobs they wanted, or letters to lawyers, often. I did not mind helping my fellow veterans in this way.

Most homeless people, including homeless veterans, smoke. We call cigarettes squares, and acquiring cigarettes is often a main goal for us smokers, since most of us do not have any money on us at all. As a general rule, I'll ask for cigarettes from those homeless veterans who do have some sort of income, and smoke. And, if I happen to get some money and have cigarettes, I'll share these cigarettes with others. I've been known to find cigarette butts on the ground, and smoke those.

Making money as a homeless person is often difficult, because we, as homeless people, are often unemployable for a variety of reasons. Any money I've made as a homeless person has been untraceable, which is money paid to me under the table. Such jobs may include cleaning an athletic stadium, or helping a political candidate get elected.

Such opportunities to work are rare, I'm sorry to say. With whatever money I may make doing such jobs, I often buy cigarettes, and cards and stamps, to write my girlfriend and daughter. Other homeless people use such small amounts of money to buy alcohol or other often illegal drugs. I choose to remain free from such substances, myself.

Many I stayed with at this Salvation Army were African American people. This was not a concern with me, because historically, I've gotten along with a wide variety of people of different races. Most of these men I stayed with at this Salvation Army accepted me living with them there. I became friends with a few of these African American men. Some, however, seemed to dislike me due to my race. I understand this, in a way, especially with some of the older African American men I stay with at this location. I imagine they were not treated so well by those of my race, especially in their youth.

Many homeless veterans I stayed with at this salvation army spent a great deal of their lives incarcerated, often for drug offenses. By the way, if you are incarcerated for a felony drug offense, you do not receive food stamps. I still do not understand why those trying to recover are not entitled to food stamps.

With those imprisoned often for long periods of time especially, it appears this has a negative effect on their social functioning, I believe. Many former inmates do not trust others easily. In time, such ex convicts learned to trust me. But initially, such people did not trust me or any others at all, at the Salvation Army. This is understandable, considering living often for years behind bars with, I imagine, some very mean and evil people.

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My intrinsic pain has become annotated. Before my life was wrecked about 3 years ago, I was involved in pharmaceutical sales with very large corporations. I did this for about a decade. Before that career, I did patient care for about a (more...)

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