Here is a quick story about a man who served our country to protect our freedoms, came home only to fall on some hard times, and simply needed a little bit of help to land right back on his feet. Stories like the one below are happening more often than most people think. About 1 in every 4 homeless persons you may pass by is a veteran. The very people who sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect US do not always get the appreciation that is deserved when they get back home.
Jeff Smith served in the Marine Corps during the early ‘80s, earning a deployment ribbon and an honorable discharge. But after the Corps, Jeff fell on hard times. Alcohol became an addiction—one that destroyed his personal life and nearly destroyed him. He couldn’t hold a steady job because of the addiction, so he was hustling from day to day just to keep going.
Then he made a bad decision that greatly accelerated a downward slide: He signed a check he had no business signing—just to get some money to eat and pay for some shelter. That act of desperation earned him a felony conviction for forgery in 2007.
Jeff admits today that his arrest was the wake-up call he needed. It forced him to take a hard look at himself and see how far his life had unraveled. Unless he made some different choices immediately, there wouldn’t be anything left to salvage. So Jeff made a Marine’s decision — he faced the truth about his life, his addiction, and his behavior. He asked for help and enrolled into a special substance abuse program for veterans, the R.E.S.T. program (Residential Employment and Substance Abuse Treatment). He stuck with the treatment plan; and by June 2010, he had logged over a year completely free from alcohol. He was proving himself a success—both to himself and to the counselors who worked with him.
Upon achieving this benchmark in his recovery program, Jeff now was authorized to deal with employment issues. And that’s when the Homeless Initiative Program’s HVRP staff met him. Jeff applied to the HVRP career program. After assessment by staff, he was assigned to the HVRP Skills That Work workshop, a weeklong training program that equips HVRP veterans with an eye-catching resume, special job-search and internet computer tools, as well as professional interviewing skills. He completed the workshop, impressing HVRP staff with his commitment and seriousness. Staff found him to be extremely pleasant, humble, and realistic. Moreover, he wasn’t work shy. He performed every task assigned to him with grace and good humor.
The next step for Jeff was the HVRP Guided Job Search program. For three days each week, he spent several hours in the HVRP Job-Search Room, under the tutelage of staff, working to follow up on job leads. He proved to be responsible and dependable. So it was with concern and disappointment that staff watched him apply for job after job without a job offer.
He was applying for jobs for which he was qualified, but employers weren’t responding to his applications. HVRP staff suspected that the problem was his recent criminal conviction—the felony forgery conviction from 2007. Most employers require that a felony be at least 5 to 10 years in the past before they will even consider a job application—if they agree to consider it at all. Jeff’s conviction was simply too fresh.
But Jeff was a veteran fighting hard to win his life back. He had proved that. And one of the missions of HVRP is to help veterans like Jeff get that second chance at life. So we took special action. HVRP had developed a relationship with Denison Parking, a local employer that wanted to help veterans. HVRP staff thought that Jeff would be a perfect fit. So HVRP made a special appeal to Denison executives to advocate for Jeff, outlining the successful steps he had taken to change his life. We asked Denison to give Jeff serious consideration for an available maintenance position, despite his criminal history. We also pledged that HVRP would stand with Jeff and would follow up with him after employment to ensure his success.
The recommendation Jeff received from HVRP persuaded Denison Parking to hire him on a trial basis. For three months since, he has earned recognition from Denison as one of its stellar employees. In fact, Denison recently promoted him to a better shift and has entrusted him with greater responsibility. Jeff is grateful for the second chance he’s received, and he’s making the most of it. He is a persuasive example that offering a veteran a second chance simply makes good business sense. And the Homeless Initiative Program’s HVRP staff is pleased to have helped make it happen.
Stories like these happen everyday, but they are not always highlighted because they slip through the cracks. Help us continue to make these stories happen, Blanket Indy with Care. Our Homeless Initiative Program serves over 2500 homeless individuals in Indianapolis, a simple and quick online donation can go a long way.
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