After living at The Road Home homeless shelter for almost nine months, I had finally been given a case manager. We met one day to work through the dense pile of paperwork to get on all the housing lists that my wife and I could.
As we went through the pages, making sure that each section was correctly filled out, I grew despondent about the chances that my wife and I would be together again any time soon. There were so many little things that would disqualify you for this list or disqualify you for that list, it was maddening. It’s no wonder that so many stay homeless.
Then we landed on a part where I had failed to fill anything in, the veteran question. I never knew what to put there. Yes, I had joined the Army, but due to my then-undiagnosed autism, it didn’t work out. When I told my case manager this, her eyes went wide.
“You joined the service?" she said. "Why didn’t you ever tell anybody?”
“Well I didn’t finish my tour,” I said, “so I didn’t think that it counted.”
My case manager stood and said; “Well, come on, let’s go downstairs and find out!”
We went down to the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) office and got in to see the supervisor, Meredith. We took a seat opposite her and watched as she entered my Social Security number into the database.
She looked up and said; “Yep, here you are, honorable medical discharge, does that sound right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “So, what does this mean?”
“This means,” my now-former case manager said, “that we can throw away that big pile of paperwork because you qualify for rapid re-housing for veterans! You’re going to be back together with your wife a lot sooner than you thought!”
Meredith gave me a huge smile. “Yep, we’re going to get you out of here! Isn’t that great?”
I just sat there stupefied for a few seconds. It felt as though I had won the lottery!
My wife and I had a disagreement with a former landlord in our past so, after a couple of failed attempts to get past the background, credit and reference checks that serve as a formidable barrier to housing for many, another SSVF counselor named Josh took me up to look at a small apartment in a complex by the University of Utah. We had found a home!
Life after the shelter isn’t easy. The housing vouchers that are used to get people out of the shelter are temporary, so you must find a job before it expires. The job search is very difficult. How do you hide the fact that you’ve been homeless? Who can you get to give you references? In our case, I wasn’t sure if I could be successful with my recently diagnosed autism, and my wife is disabled.
We’ve been in the apartment since August and I’m still looking for work. Meanwhile, we try to get by with only $1,153 a month.
There has been tragedy as well. My wife and I became friends with another homeless man who moved in next door. We felt that he was a good person who was trying to overcome a bad criminal record from his past. He had other struggles, too, as we found out one night when we were startled by a loud commotion.
We couldn’t make out what was happening, but then we heard our neighbor’s girlfriend outside asking for someone who knew CPR. I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door, but paramedics were already arriving, so I stood aside for them. Our neighbor was pronounced dead just minutes later, a victim of an accidental overdose.
The shock was profound, and we still miss our neighbor. Life goes on, however, and so we continue to do the best we can. Our case manager, Holly, and the others from the SSVF are a great help, and they communicate often, and so we’re still very hopeful.
I woke up early one morning and just laid quiet and listened to my wife’s gentle snoring, her cat’s staccato purr and that funny snuffling noise that my dog makes when he chases rodents in his dreams. It was the music of home, and it was beautiful.
Kip Yost is a formerly homeless person now living with his wife in an apartment in Salt Lake City.