SHELBYVILLE, Ken. — The nationwide eviction moratorium expired at the end of July and leaders at the Veterans Administration are concerned it will lead to a large increase in homeless veterans. One Kentucky program is working to house veterans before the moratorium ends.
Nearly 40,000 veterans experienced homelessness on any given night in 2020, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Paul Elliott was one of them.
“Living out of your van, or whatever, you just get tired of it," Elliott said. “There is a saying when you go into service is they try to 'break the civilian out of you' and once that civilian is gone, you never go back.”
For Elliott, and many like him, homelessness wasn’t a choice, but it is a common outcome.
“Even when you sleep, you’re not sleeping. This is where PTSD comes in, where you’re always wired," Elliott said.
As Elliott experienced, nothing feels safe. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in any given year.
Jeremy Harrell knows that feeling too. It’s why he started the Veterans Club in Shelbyville, Kentucky, to help people just like Elliott.
“It’s emotional for me because I’ve been in those same positions that everyone that we help have. I struggle with PTSD myself," Harrell said. “It’s not enough just to say, 'Hey, we want to get vets off the street.' But I remember how I felt when I felt like I had no one. And I don’t want that ever to be the case that we’re around.”
Through partnerships, the club recently started its Veterans Village, a community of tiny homes for veterans in need.
“The homes are foundational. What that does is it tears down any barriers you have about where am I going to sleep and what am I going to eat. So, we get rid of that for you," Harrell said.
Elliott says his life has been a revolving door, until a few weeks ago
“I had a hard time readjusting to civilian world, and at this time I still do. I find being here at the Veterans Club, I think being around other veterans and this community that’s going to be a brotherhood and a family, I think this is going to help me get established and have a home," Elliot said.
“Create that same bond that we had while we were in service, and that’s not replicable in the civilian world really, and so, that’s a powerful tool that we have," Harrell said.
That’s just the beginning.
“Then we have case managers who kind of sit down with them, clinicians who sit down with them and kind talk about, 'Hey, these are the challenges you have, but what are your goals?' We come up with a 3, 6, 9, 12-month plan.”
They pay extremely close attention to every detail.
“Then we start working on financial literacy, we start working on employment, we start working on supportive services, we start working on education, we do training, we just want to fill the toolbox," Harrell said.
For Elliott, it’s been years since he’s had a place to call his own. With those worries lifted and a comfortable support system, he’s working on his next step.
“I want to go back to work. I’ve injured myself. I’ve been dealing with injuries," Elliott said.
Harrell gets calls about veterans who could benefit from their services across the country. The reality is, there aren’t many programs like this out there.
“It’s hard work in a way that it could work for a year, and then in a day it could all go south," Harrell said. “When you’re dealing with recovery of any kind, whether it be mental health, whether it be substance abuse, you can put a lot of effort in and not produce any fruit.”
Delaware, Connecticut and Virginia are the only states that have virtually eradicated veteran homelessness, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. But until that’s the case nationwide, Harrell and his team won’t stop helping veterans like Elliott.
“If it was up to me, I’d be in trouble again. I’d be on my own somewhere trying to deal with something on my own and you can’t do it on your own," Elliott said.
The hard work of helping yourself and others is what fuels the Veterans Club.
“Oftentimes, it’s looked at as a person may be lazy or they don’t want to work, but oftentimes that’s not the case at all," Harrell said. “We can’t get so comfortable and so arrogant that we think for a minute that that can’t be us. And how would you want to be treated if it was you? And if we just start asking ourselves that throughout daily life in general, I think our country would be in a lot better state than it is now.”