He was walking on the streets with nowhere to go. He flagged down a police officer and asked, “You protect and serve, right?” The police officer answered “Yes.” Then he asked “Will you protect my wellbeing and serve me a ride to the Lebanon VA hospital.” The police officer did just that. When he arrived at the Lebanon VA, they had no beds available for him. With nowhere to go, Morris came to Opportunity House.
The story of homeless veterans is a familiar one at Opportunity House. We open our doors to those who served and give homeless veterans a place to reclaim their lives and help them develop a path to stable housing.
For Morris, the military provided the structure and income he needed as both an 18-year-old and a new father. He enlisted in the Marines to support his new son. During his boot camp, the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred and he and his fellow soldiers were put on high alert. He completed his training at Camp Johnson, North Carolina and later served as logistics control specialist at Camp Lejune. His military career ended after spending time in the brig for marijuana possession.
After leaving the military, Morris’s life went on a series of downward spirals followed by moments of fleeting stability. A serious injury to his leg led to depression and an addiction to pain killers. He was able to work periodically as a forklift operator but the pain from his injury interfered and he lost his job. This cycle would continue for years, and his family always provided a place for him to stay.
Later, he moved to Columbus, Ohio to get a fresh start with his new wife and baby boy. He got a job at a lumber company and his wife was going back to school. Working as the second shift lead at the lumber company, he was required to lift heavy beams. The pain became unbearable and a doctor prescribed pain pills. His wife worried about his addiction. Unwilling to address the issue, Morris left her and his son.
After 40 days, he returned home. The couple briefly reconciled but his wife left because he continued to take pain pills.
With nowhere to go, Morris was homeless. He would clean parking lots to generate cash. This homeless veteran sold bottles of cold water at a gas station to customers who wanted to help him. These odd jobs didn’t generate enough income to afford an apartment. He continued to live on the streets and used the cash to fuel his addiction. His drug of choice now was heroin. It was more accessible and affordable than prescription pain killers.
Tired of being homeless, Morris contacted the Veteran Administration Homeless Outreach Program. They helped him find a place to live and he began working at Fed-Ex. Life had improved and Morris was on a path to a bright future until COVID hit. Work stopped and his addiction kicked in. His life was spiraling out of control.
Morris knew he needed help. He called his sister, and she convinced him to go to rehab. Morris completed an inpatient program, outpatient program, and eventually moved to a recovery house. While his addiction was being managed, his personal life was in disarray. The mother of his child was fighting for full custody of their son. The mental toll on Morris was unbearable and he turned to crack to cope.
His final stint in rehab ended when Morris was fighting with other clients. They kicked him out of the program, and he lived on the streets until he came to Opportunity House.
Today, Morris credits Opportunity House for providing the mental health support and addiction support he needed to make the lasting changes for long-term success. Today, he’s waiting for his housing voucher and applying for jobs to be a role model for his children.
“My father was my role model. He was my moral compass. I relied on him to provide direction to me and helped me stay on track,” noted Morris. He knows the importance of having a strong role model in his life and the impact it had on him when he lost his father as a young boy. “I want my children to see me as their role model and to help them avoid the mistakes that I’ve made,” he added.