How a veteran overcame addiction and homelessness

March 7th, 2019

It was the fall of 2015, and James Campbell had run out of options. He was 56 years old, and he had worn out his welcome with relatives and friends. They could not tolerate his alcohol and drug abuse and the bad behavior that went with it. 

An acquaintance had stolen a U-Haul trailer and parked it in an alley in northwest Detroit. Knowing that James had no place for shelter, he gave him the keys. The trailer became James’ home. In the day James worked at a nearby party store. At night he crawled inside the metal box to consume cheap liquor and cocaine. 

James lived in the trailer for a year, through a shivering winter and sweltering summer.

“The cold was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” James said. “I asked God many times why this was the hand I was dealt. I was ready to give up on life. Though I was raised with good values, nothing seemed to matter but getting that next high. The disease of addition is so cunning and baffling.”

James’ health deteriorated from the substance abuse and homelessness. His weight dropped to 90 pounds. Because he would sell his food stamps for cash to feed his habit, James ate discarded food he found in dumpsters behind fast food restaurants. He felt ashamed by his desperate measures to survive, and didn’t want others to know how far he had fallen.

“I kept it from my two grown kids because their lives were going so well and I didn’t want my problems to affect them,” James said. “Also, my pride was afraid of what they would think.”

James’ kids did find out eventually about his situation. His son came to the trailer and persuaded James to go to the VA Hospital in Detroit and enter the detox program there. James is an Army veteran.

From the VA, James was sent to Emmanuel House, which provides transitional housing and support services to homeless veterans, many of whom are suffering from addiction. Emmanuel House encouraged James to enter the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) program. At first, James reluctantly participated. Gradually, he saw the merit of the program, though a part of himself continued to scheme.

“In the meetings, people got really honest about how addiction is slowly committing suicide,” James said. “I started to get honest with myself, too. My mind started to open up and I felt myself changing. But I still thought I could get though the program, return to the world and get back to using again.”

At Emmanuel House, James was connected with Southwest Solutions’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. SSVF provides housing assistance, case management and support services to low-income veterans who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. The goal is to help veterans attain self-sufficiency and reintegrate into the community.

James worked with SSVF housing caseworker Rozlyn Holifield. Rozlyn encouraged James to continue to stay clean and to plan for maintaining stable housing after his stay at Emmanuel House was over. 

After 17 months at Emmanuel House, James moved into his own apartment in the spring of last year. Rozlyn arranged for SSVF to pay the security deposit and rent for up to nine months. SSVF also provided a bed and basic household items. With help from the Disability Attorneys of Michigan, James was able to secure disability benefits. Rozlyn advised James to start saving every month so that he would have three months of rent in reserve by the time his SSVF rental payments ended. James followed Rozlyn’s guidance. 

In addition, James applied for a HUD VASH voucher through the VA. He recently learned that his application has been accepted. The voucher will cover 70% of James’ monthly rental payments. 

James has not used alcohol or drugs since September 20, 2016. He has become a mentor and group service representative in NA. He now aspires to become a peer support specialist to help other veterans struggling with homelessness and addiction. 

“Battling addiction is an education without a graduation,” James said. “This journey never stops and you have to be disciplined every day. I’ve known many people who’ve relapsed and died of overdose.”

James relationships with his two kids have grown closer and more trusting. His daughter’s family has lived in Ohio for many years and James has never been to her home. That is about to change. She is coming to get him, and James will spend the weekend there, helping her to get the garage in order, and visiting with his three grandchildren. 

“The simple pleasures are what I enjoy the most,” James said. “I live a peaceful and humble life now. It’s a learning process. I’m almost 60 years old, but I’m more teachable and honest today than I’ve ever been.”

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