Yvette Cabrera, a columnist for the Orange County Register, recently profiled Bill Jenkins, a disabled Army veteran who, after experiencing homelessness for a spell, has now found a place. The publication of the article, “Homeless to respected: Vet earns it” coincided with Jenkins’ graduation to the independent-living phase of his program.
The program is sponsored by Veterans First, described as “the only nonprofit in Orange County, CA offering veterans a wide range of services: case management, counseling, substance abuse programs, job training and placement and homeless shelter.” In the usual way of things, a participant has as long as two years to reach the independent-living stage. Jenkins has fulfilled the requirements in a mere eight months.
Now in Alcoholics Anonymous and sober for nine months, Jenkins lives on his military pension. The apartment he moves into will be partly paid for with federal funds, and he will be subject to case management for a period of time. Someone keeps an eye on the graduates so, if there is any backsliding, they can help before it’s too late.
Jenkins is proud of the work he’s done to turn his life around. But he gets even more satisfaction from his work helping other veterans who are still homeless. Others might ignore or look down on these men and women, but Jenkins considers many to be friends and all well worth helping.
At the group home, he was the “Information Liaison” person, responsible for keeping up with and spreading the latest news on available resources and how to tap into them. He speaks to groups, and he helped as a street guide for the Orange County homeless census. Jenkins is working to organize the county’s first Veterans’ Stand Down.
For his service at the cold-weather shelter, the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation gave Jenkins an award. The journalist says,
Jenkins acknowledges that much of his progress is due to sobriety and to having a home base, a place where he can stabilize himself. But there’s more to the equation. Jenkins has carved out a place for himself in society, a role; a reason to stay sober and in a home… ‘It’s neat for me to have people who call me by my first name and know that I’ve made a difference somewhere along the way; where they actually remember me,’ says Jenkins. ‘This isn’t something I want to walk away from.’
In general, there are at least three things to consider about volunteer work. The obvious and empirically proven aspect is that helping others is one of the essential elements in any recovery program. That’s just how people are built, and if it works, don’t fix it.
Sometimes a volunteer situation turns into or leads to paid work, which is even better. A space is left for someone else whose recovery program includes helping others, while the person who now has a paying job can move on, to volunteer in some other area of need.
On the other hand, things could still be better. To make an approximate analogy, large numbers of recovering addicts have become drug counselors. Sometimes, that’s the best they can hope for as employment. Which shows that society still needs a whole lot of fixing. If a formerly homeless person becomes a homeless advocate, it should be a choice made because they have a passion for the work, not a position accepted because there are no better options.
Let’s dare to imagine a world where there is no need for drug counselors or rape counselors, or any other kind of trauma counselors, or even a need for homeless advocates. Let’s go all the way and just end homelessness. Richard R. Troxell is convinced this can be done. House the Homeless supports the Universal Living Wage, the benefit of which is that it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all of 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.