Serving Those Who Served
Thanks to YOU, we are making concrete progress on ending Veteran homelessness in our area. You are changing lives. We are so proud of the transformations our residents make every day and want to share some of their stories. To respect the privacy of the generous individuals who have shared their stories below, aliases may be used in place of their given names.
Answering Their Call: Our Veteran’s Stories In Their Own Words
We wanted to share the story of one of our house monitors, Romano Dickey. He continues to work at HFTB every day throughout the COVID-19 crisis. If you have visited Homes for the Brave to prep and/or serve a meal in the past year you know why he is truly an essential member of our staff.
Cheryl’s story is a story to be heard. We invite you to hear Cheryl’s story and how Homes For the Brave and Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes have been a part of her life.
It is hard to imagine that in America there are Veterans experiencing homelessness, but it is a daily occurrence and for a variety of reasons. Meet “Aaron,” an energetic and proud Marine Corps Veteran, who was a resident at Homes for the Brave.
After four years of service while traveling the world, and an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, Aaron started his own welding company, specializing in the cruise industry. Unfortunately, a series of poor choices led to him becoming incarcerated.
Upon release he had a choice: return to his home state of Florida, or make a fresh start. Knowing he was his own best advocate, Aaron connected with the West Haven VA when he arrived in Connecticut, and there he learned about Homes for the Brave.
“There’s a solution to every problem, and Homes for the Brave provided me with the tools and individual support that I needed for my particular situation.”
While at HFTB, Aaron worked with his case manager to develop a plan to get back on track. He took advantage of all the services Homes for the Brave offers. He attended life skills workshops and completed the computer class. He worked closely with vocational staff to perfect multiple resumes and his interviewing skills. In time, HFTB helped Aaron find housing in an apartment where he can garden. His son later moved in with him. Today he is working toward rebuilding his welding company.
“I needed someone to believe in me – someone to meet me where I was and help me through my specific challenges. I’m forever grateful for that support.”
“I didn’t want to be there,” remembers “Kayla” as she talks about her first day at FS:FH. “I was scared and alone. I couldn’t believe anyone understood what I was going through.”
Kayla grew up in New Jersey in a military family. Her father, her sister, and she all enlisted in the Army. As the first female to work in the Pentagon’s dental lab, Kayla characterized herself as independent and self-sufficient. Upon her discharge, Kayla went on to have a long and successful career at the VA hospital in Washington DC until she retired in 2018.
She looked forward to traveling, but unexpected medical bills left her reeling. Quickly, Kayla found herself in a difficult economic situation and about to face eviction. She needed a fresh start. Without a car, she took a Greyhound bus north where her mother and sister lived. “I just remember looking down at my key chain and not having any keys for the first time in my life.”
Still in shock and overwhelmed at how her life had turned upside down, Kayla prepared herself for life in what she thought would be a typical homeless shelter. Instead, she arrived at FS:FH and found a beautiful facility and a robust program. She saw the genuine affection and personal touch the staff had with her fellow residents.
As she became more comfortable, Kayla began to open up about her struggles with depression and began embracing her new community of fellow Veterans. She participated in traditions like cookie decorating with her housemates and started painting, nurturing her creative side and reducing stress.
Kayla now lives independently in a complex with other female Veterans and is making new friends. She credits FS:FH for reminding her how much people care about her and for showing her a community that is always there for her. “It was overwhelming at first,” she admits, “but even talking about FS:FH now brings a bright big smile to my face.”
“I didn’t expect much of anything,” Mike, a larger than life man with a gentle voice, explained his first impressions of Homes for the Brave. “It was another program in a long line of programs.”
Like many HFTB residents, Mike had been incarcerated. After spending over a decade in prison, he struggled to connect to the community. However, HFTB had the resources tailored to fit the needs of Veterans like himself, and here he found a fresh start.
In the initial weeks, he struggled as he faced one set back after another, such as a rejection for housing and having difficulty finding employment. Unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Mike often felt like quitting.
“My case manager wouldn’t give up on me,” he said, thankfully. Things turned around for him when he passed a required computer class. With a renewed sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that HFTB’s staff was in his corner, Mike and his case manager developed a plan for progress toward his dream of owning a restaurant.
Through hard work and perseverance, today Mike has his own apartment and works as a cook for area restaurants. He credits HFTB for providing him with the tools to succeed.
Now he lights the way for others following in his footsteps. At a recent holiday celebration, he manned the grill at HFTB, smiling and chatting with other Veterans. “I’ve found a community here,” Mike said. “Being able to help gives me a sense of purpose like the Marines did. I’ve found a new mission.”
Christine followed in her brothers’ footsteps and joined the Army to find direction. After her discharge she had limited options, and ultimately arrived on FS:FH’s doorstep.
Her past trauma weighed heavily on her, and the transition to living at FS:FH did not come easily. Personality conflicts arose with other residents and Christine wondered if this was the place for her. “I did not handle the politics of communal living well,” she said. With the help of her case manager and weekly Life Skills workshops, Christine strengthened her interpersonal skills.
As the women shared histories of mental health disorders, military sexual trauma, and substance abuse with one another, Christine began to open up. She realized they had more in common than she originally believed. Christine drew strength from her fellow female Veterans. Through the process, she recognized that she had a new mission: empowering others.
With our Vocational team’s help, she enrolled at Housatonic Community College and earned an Associate’s Degree in Human Services, and then went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health from Southern Connecticut State University. Juggling school and a full time job wasn’t always easy, but she was encouraged by FS:FH staff. “Everyone committed to my success. Their faith gave me confidence.”
After experiencing the life-changing impact case managers can have first-hand, Christine decided to pursue a career in social work, and is ready to help others who are facing difficult journeys of their own. “We all connected by a common thread, despite being on different paths. I want to help others find that thread.”
A Connecticut native, “James” enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968. Returning home after nearly a year in Southeast Asia, “James” found it hard to reacclimate. He had been exposed to marijuana in Vietnam and soon turned to alcohol and harder drugs to cope with civilian life.
After overdosing multiple times and going in and out of rehab, “James” eventually found a program that worked for him. He married and became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor to help others in similar situations. A variety of factors led “James” to Home for the Brave, including a foreclosure, his wife’s terminal illness, his mother’s death and his return to substance use all within six months. “I was in a rooming house when someone told me about HFTB. Rehabilitation wasn’t even mentioned. I just knew it to be a place for Vets.”
“James” worked with his Case Manager to secure permanent housing and now volunteers assisting those with PTSD to return to the workforce. “If it wasn’t for the ongoing support, I don’t know where I’d be,” he says, reflecting on his time at HFTB. He does offer a bit of advice to those following in his footsteps, “Whatever you did before, the best decision you made is coming to HFTB….Take advantage of this opportunity. You might not get another chance.”
“Lucy” served in the U.S. Coast Guard for a decade. Prior to becoming a resident of Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes, she was incarcerated, suffering from both physical and mental health challenges. “FS:FH made me feel safe,” she said. “They were here to help.” Presented with the chance to reinvent herself, “Lucy” took the opportunity and ran with it.
Working with both her Case Manager and her Vocational Specialist, “Lucy” identified job prospects that built on her extensive experience in the food industry to find full-time employment. With great enthusiasm and motivation, she pounded the pavement to personally visit owners and managers. She credits this ability to FS:FH. “I was confident because I had the staff behind me.”
Hired full time at an upscale restaurant, “Lucy” saved enough money to move into permanent housing. When asked about her time at FS:FH, she said that “the staff gave me the tools I needed for my quest.” And asked what advice she could give to others when in similar situations, it was simply: “Be patient. Follow the rules. Good things will come of it.”
Carin spent her upbringing between Stamford and Bridgeport until she enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. After 9/11, Carin felt a responsibility to serve her country and joined the military. After 18 months abroad in Iraq, she returned to Rhode Island and continued to serve in the National Guard. While serving as a “part-time soldier,” she worked a variety of catering and restaurant jobs, but yearned for more stability than the food & beverage lifestyle offered.
By January 2015, Carin felt herself reaching rock bottom. She worked two back-to-back jobs as a Certified Nursing Assistant but—as a single mother with no support—was unable to make ends meet. When she received an eviction notice from her landlord, she packed her few belongings and moved back to Connecticut, where she found Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes.
Once she and her daughter settled in, Carin developed her personal service plan alongside her case manager and returned to school to complete her education. Meanwhile, her daughter enjoyed a safe place where she could read, watch cartoons, and play with positive female role models and other children.
Today, Carin is working toward her medical degree in respiratory therapy. Thanks to the stipend she receives through the G.I. Bill, she is able to maintain a home for herself and her daughter while focusing on her coursework. She is also pursuing her medical assistant certificate so that she can return to the workforce and provide an even fuller life for her family.
Patrick joined the National Guard at only 19-years-old then transferred to the Marines. Having married his high school sweetheart and started a family at a young age, he believed that serving in the military would enable him to properly support his wife and daughter. In the service, Patrick trained to be a Military Police Officer and Sniper. Upon his discharge in the 80s, he found his calling in the security industry. He was able to utilize many of the skills he learned in the military while making a comfortable living.
When Patrick was laid off, he moved in with his ill mother as her full-time caregiver. After she passed away in early 2016, Patrick was shocked to learn that his mother had cashed in her life insurance policy, spent the majority of her remaining funds, and never officially added Patrick to her lease. Patrick was given 30 days to vacate his home.
Patrick found Homes for the Brave, which he credits with providing the support and stability he needed to regain his independence. Alongside his vocational specialist and case manager, Patrick prepared to reenter the workforce.
After a number of interviews, career fairs, job workshops, and coaching sessions, Patrick secured a full-time position as an Armed Security Guard. Once he was able to begin saving his earnings, Patrick moved into an apartment in Bridgeport. Within five years, Patrick plans to purchase a property of his own.
Sabrina retired from the military in 2008 after serving in the Army for twenty years. Upon retirement, Sabrina worked as a Budget Analyst for the federal government. She resigned from her post after two years, however, when she fell ill and needed to focus on her health. While in recovery, she learned that her identity had been stolen. Sabrina refers to this period as the moment when everything began to spiral out of control.
Her financial assets had been drained and she could no longer afford her basic living expenses. She lived with each of her parents for a while, but neither situation was sustainable. She stayed in hotels when she could afford to but on all other nights, she slept in her car or in the hospital, where she continued to seek treatment for her medical problems.
One night in 2012, a Bridgeport Hospital employee told Sabrina about a local organization that housed homeless Veterans. She looked for us in the phone book and before long, became one of the first residents in the Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes program.
Sabrina took full advantage of the resources that were available to her through FS:FH. The staff connected her with the appropriate resources to help repair her credit, recover her records, and save enough money to live independently again. She also secured an exclusive volunteer position at Sikorsky Aircraft and enrolled in college.
After a year, Sabrina moved into her own apartment. She said it can be lonely sometimes, but it feels good to be independent again. She is focusing on her fashion merchandise degree, and plans to pursue a career as a buyer when she graduates
Carolyn enlisted in the Army in 1986 to provide a better life for herself and her children. She served active duty for five years and then served in the Army Reserves.
Civilian life proved challenging for Carolyn. She relocated several times and health issues made it difficult for her to hold down a job. She ended up in an emergency shelter. The counselor at the shelter referred Carolyn to FS:FH, and she moved in on December 26, 2013.
Alongside her case manager, Carolyn worked to improve her job skills, obtained a full-time job, saved her earnings, and was able to move into her own apartment after 14 months at FS:FH. Carolyn often refers to FS:FH as her “Christmas Present” because the program helped her reach her goals
Charlie grew up one of nine children in northern Maine and served in the U.S. Army from 1984 to 1986. He would have loved to continue his career in the Army, but life’s path led him elsewhere.
When Charlie arrived at Homes for the Brave in 2011, he was frustrated with his inability to find a job and found it difficult to ask for help. He had been raised to make finding a job his number one priority and had been working since he was 12-years-old. While at HFTB, Charlie was able to focus on his goals, manage his medical issues, and look for permanent housing.
In April 2011, Charlie moved to Waldorf House, where he had more independence but could still access the staff and resources at HFTB. He joined an employment program where he will receive more than 290 hours of training and practical experience for several in-demand career paths. Charlie is looking forward to moving closer to his goals and living his life with a healthier, more positive attitude.
Paul spent several months at Homes for the Brave during the past year. Previously, he was living in his car and attending Norwalk Community College as a full-time student. While at Homes for the Brave, this U.S. Army Veteran was able to save money, find permanent housing, and achieve his best academic semester. Today, Paul is completing his degree in Construction Technology and Architecture, and has become the first HFTB graduate known to purchase his own home in Bridgeport, Connecticut after leaving the program. Paul will be using his education and skills to renovate this hundred-year-old house.
Sam came to Homes for the Brave last year because he was “sick and tired of bein’ sick and tired.” Born in South Carolina and raised in Stamford, Sam was the only one of 11 children to graduate from high school. Later, he went on to the Westchester Business Institute for Business Management and later on to Porter & Chester Institute for Auto Mechanics.
He joined the U.S. Army in 1980, and as a cook, served nearly 2,000 troops while stationed in Hawaii. He also served with the 902nd Engineers and bridge builders at Fort Belvoir, VA and won the “Best Cooks in the Field” award for his Pineapple Upside-Down cake. In 1984, he got married, had kids, and went to West Germany to serve with a field artillery unit for 18 months. He received 2 honorable discharges for service.
Things started to get rocky during the 90’s when Sam lost his father, started drinking, and got divorced. He moved to Waterbury where he was in and out of jail and lived on the streets. He finally got his life turned around in 2010, after going through a 21-day program and with the help of a mentor. Sam now attends church and reads his Bible regularly. He also volunteers with the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) Program and looks forward to taking entrepreneurial classes in the near future.
Roger enlisted in the Army at the young age of 18, served for three years, and was honorably discharged. After leaving the army, Roger struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, which led to his incarceration for 13 years. It was not until Roger was unemployed and sleeping in his car that he decided it was time to get help. After completing a 21-day substance abuse treatment program, he found Homes for the Brave.
When Roger entered Homes for the Brave, his only source of income was a small Social Security disability pension. HFTB helped Roger find part-time construction, which soon led to full-time employment. Not long after, he gave up his disability pension. Roger began working for Homes for the Brave and because of his excellent work ethic, he was offered a full-time position as House Manager. Roger helps residents by sharing his own experiences as a way to inspire others to continue on their journey of recovery from substance abuse and mental illness.
Today, Roger has moved into his own apartment, remains clean and sober, and has maintained a steady job that he thoroughly enjoys. Inspired by his love for his work and by his own experiences, Roger is preparing to go back to school to study Human Services.