Stories of Hope
Drayton served his country proudly for three years in the U.S. Army. He was a family man with a wife, kids and a good job until, at age 55, an injury began to unravel his life.
The injury to his back left Drayton unable to find and maintain gainful employment. While unemployed, his wife passed away. Without a steady job, Drayton was unable to pay the bills, and he was heartbroken over losing his wife.
The emotional and financial drain took its toll, and Drayton soon found himself homeless. He lived on the streets of Portsmouth for four years before finding housing and support with Virginia Supportive Housing.
“I have peace of mind knowing I don’t have to worry about where to lay my head at night,” said Drayton, who lives at VSH’s Heron’s Landing apartments in Chesapeake.
VSH is the Veteran’s Administration’s largest housing services agency for veterans in Virginia and has a specialized team whose members are specially trained to help veterans secure the benefits they deserve. Case managers are helping Drayton to navigate systems in order to secure VA benefits and social security income.
Drayton likes to read, play chess and attend Bible study. In addition to the relief he feels for having a safe home, Drayton is happy that his daughters no longer have to worry about him, too. In fact, his goal is to save enough money to be able to move to North Carolina to be closer to his family.
New Clay House was the only stable home that Brenda, in her fifties, had ever known. Raised by an abusive and dysfunctional family, she never stayed in one place for more than a few months. After years of living with physical and emotional abuse, Brenda finally gathered the courage to flee and tried to make her own way. But like many women escaping abuse, her employment options were limited to low-wage jobs such as waitressing. She lived from paycheck to paycheck and when she lost her job, she quickly ended up vulnerable, without a support system, and homeless. “I was too proud to ask for help,” Brenda said.
She spent a few years living on the streets, in churches and in the YWCA shelter. Meanwhile, her health needs went untreated. Her physical health worsened and her chronic depression intensified. For a while, Brenda walked every day across the Lee Bridge from the shelter to the Daily Planet. She said the worst part of her experience with homelessness was the cold. “I thought I would never get out of homelessness,” Brenda said, “I just didn’t see a way out.”
Through the shelter system, Brenda found out about New Clay House and was placed on the waiting list. The supportive services at New Clay were exactly what she needed to address her mental, emotional, and physical health needs. Stable housing also allowed Brenda to reconnect with her cousin and brother; two of her non-abusive family members. “People think we (people experiencing homelessness) aren’t worth the time … that we deserve to be homeless,” she said. “Thank God for VSH! We need more places like New Clay House so that more people can have a home.”
Very few people have been a part of the Virginia Supportive Housing community as long as Brenda. She was one of the first residents to move into New Clay House and lived there for 25 years, until her death in 2017. She will be dearly missed, but we take some small comfort in the fact that, in her closing years, she lived with contentment, fellowship, and above all else, dignity.
Jason (name changed to protect privacy) spent 45 years in the radio industry, two of which were with the Army in Vietnam. When his employer in Richmond downsized in 2011, he was left jobless and confused about what to do next. He eventually became homeless and, in response to his feelings of depression, he developed addictions to marijuana and alcohol. Jason finally ended up sleeping under the Lee Bridge and mostly remembers the endless days when it rained on him without stopping and was cold, so cold. “When you’re homeless, you’re hopeless.”
In May of 2013, things began to turn around for him through the help of several Richmond agencies. Through the Daily Planet, Jason was introduced to VSH. According to Jason, VSH brought back into his life what he was missing by eliminating the learned helplessness and giving him a renewed sense of hope. Jason accessed emergency shelter through CARITAS and six months of temporary housing through Liberation Family Services. He also joined AA and has made it to step nine of the program, thanks to his sponsor.
On Fall 2013, Jason moved into his own apartment with the assistance of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program through VSH. After completing a financial literacy course with VSH, he learned to manage his Social Security income, put away savings, and purchase a used car. Now 65 years old, Jason is sober, taking full control of his life, and learning valuable life skills. He is currently focused on paying it forward by helping other people seeking recovery, and his career goal is to become a copywriter. According to Jason, none of this would have been possible without the kindness, respect, and support shown to him along the way. The key, he said, is to ask for help and remain hopeful. VSH is in the “hope business.”