“When I came home [from the military] I got married, had a wife and 3 children,” said Nathan Jackson, a U.S. Army veteran. “I worked every day taking care of my family doing what I was supposed to do.”
In 2011, Jackson lost his job.
“I had separated from my wife, I had enough money saved to take care of myself for 6 months,” said Jackson, who had moved to Atlanta from New York to take care of his ailing mother. When the money ran out Jackson gave up his apartment, put his belongings in his van and started driving around. One day Jackson came across a place called the Veterans Empowerment Organization, which provides housing and support services for veterans. Soon he had a per-manent place to live and was working for the United Way of Greater Atlanta as a member of the Home-to-Street: Peers Reaching Out Team (PRO) comprised of formerly homeless individuals who build relationships with the homeless community.
“We go out early each morning wherever homeless people sleep, we walk up to them and say good morning,” said Jackson. “We ask them if they would like to come out of the situation they are in, if they are interested in starting their life over. If we get a yes that sends a big smile on all our faces.”
Those interested are put into transitional housing that same day and connected with a case manager. More than 800 men and women have entered the program and 75 percent of those have successfully moved into permanent housing. “It’s something I have grown very passionate about,” said Jackson, who recently started a clothing closet for the homeless. “I know a lot of them are looking for jobs and they don’t have sufficient clothes to wear.”
Jackson said he sees many young veterans living on the streets. “It is shocking to me to see such young people coming home now and they are homeless already. A lot of veterans come out and don’t know what’s available for them,” he said. A local survey found 80 percent of homeless veterans are eligible for VA services yet only 32 percent use those services. The United Way Vets Connect program works with the VA and partner agencies to provide ser-vices and housing to homeless veterans.
“I feel real good that I can help somebody,” Jackson said. “I’ve wrote a few success stories.”
Visit www.unitedwayatlanta.org and www.veteransempowerment.org for more information.
If you would like to donate to his clothing closet contact Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dean Hesse