A veteran’s recovery from homelessness: Michael’s journey

November 11th, 2020
Michael Sanders at Piquette Square for Veterans

To guide him through his recovery from homelessness, Navy veteran Michael Sanders has a personal motto that serves as his beacon.

“I must get back to where I was to get where I was going,” said Michael, 44.

It is a return journey that is also a step forward.

For past three years. Michael has lived at Southwest Solutions’ Piquette Square for Veterans, which provides housing and support services to 150 formerly homeless veterans so they can rebuild their lives. Before then, Michael was at a shelter for homeless veterans in Detroit for three and a half years.

“I had a good life before, but I made some bad choices, lost everything, and stopped taking care of myself,” Michael said.

Michael’s untreated mental health issues strongly contributed to his descent into homelessness. He suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in the military from 1993 to 1996. Michael worked in construction and supported efforts to rebuild places devastated by war or natural disaster.

“My job was helping people, but I saw so much suffering, and the suffering continued to haunt me when I left the Navy,” Michael said.

After his service, Michael worked as an inspector for the City of Detroit for a decade. He then worked in manufacturing. In his personal life, he married and then divorced. He has four biological children.

“As time passed, I could feel myself slowly slipping away, but I also tried to ignore it, and I self-medicated with drinking,” Michael said.

At the shelter for homeless veterans, Michael started getting treatment for his mental illness, including psychiatric medications. After he moved into Piquette Square, he decided to take himself off of most medications, and use the coping skills he has learned to manage stress, while taking advantage of the support services available to the veterans in the building.

“I feel peace of mind and at home at Piquette Square,” Michael said. “I’m independent, with assistance, and part of a community. To be surrounded by other veterans who understand me and what I’ve been though is a huge help and blessing.”

Michael started a full time job as a security guard after arriving at Piquette Square. He was laid off this year because of a company slowdown, and he had trouble getting his unemployment for several months. As a result, he fell behind on his rent, and became worried. He talked to Rayna Bahm, who is the Veteran Supportive Housing Specialist at Piquette Square. Rayna speaks with Michael regularly to offer counseling support and recommend resources he might need to sustain his tenancy and realize his goals.

Rayna connected Michael with Southwest Solutions’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which provides rental assistance and support services to help low-income veterans experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

SSVF paid Michael’s rental arrears. In addition, Michael began working with Brandon Gray, an SSVF employment specialist, about employment prospects with better pay and stability. Michael knows how operate a forklift, and Brandon has connected Michael with some promising job opportunities.

Michael collects his My Neighborhood Mobile Grocery food order at Piquette Square

Michael intends to pursue those opportunities as soon as he is able to get his 17-year-old son settled. His son has autism, and Michael is assuming responsibility for him.

“My son needs me more than ever and taking care of him is my priority going forward,” Michael said.

Michael helps his son with his schoolwork and also cooks healthy meals for them both in his apartment at Piquette Square. Michael purchases the food through Gleaners’ My Neighborhood Mobile Grocery (MNMG) program. MNMG comes to Piquette Square every week to offer low-cost, nutritious food items to the veterans who want to participate in the program.

To plan for the future, Michael is saving money whenever he can, and is even investing some of it. He has also raised his credit score from a very low number to 720.

“I am my hopeful self again and the road ahead is a good one,” Michael said.

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