Tricia Richardson served four and a half years in the U.S. Army and spent one year in Iraq. During a military exercise, she collided head-on into three soldiers and sustained serious injuries that left her with five fractured bones in her face.
After a surgical procedure to implant metal pins underneath her eyes and jawbone, Richardson spent four months in rehab at Fort Benning Army Base in Georgia. The accident left the mother of three with memory loss. She also suffered debilitating migraine headaches that landed her in the hospital a minimum of three times a week. Discharged from the military in July 2009, the Hyattsville, Md. native trudged from one job interview to another, once she returned home, and became homeless due to her lack of employment.
"In the military, my sergeants would give me time to take medicine and recover from [the migraine headaches]," said Richardson, 31. "But the civilian world doesn't want to hear that ... So that posed a really big problem for me with finding employment once I got out of the military."
Richardson's luck changed when she learned about the D.C. Housing Authority-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program [DCHA-VASH].
"Once I found [out about the program], [its employees] got on top of things and made sure that I was taken care of," said Richardson, who now lives with her three sons in a house in Northeast.
A technical engineering specialist in the Army who worked on building plans and land surveying, Richardson applied for similar jobs as a civilian – but to no avail. Unemployed for three years, she and her children sacked out in her 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix on different streets in the District and Maryland for a year – a stark contrast to the three-bedroom home she and her family lived in while stationed at Ft. Benning.
VASH, created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2008, allocates funding to DCHA to help veterans who are homeless find housing quickly. The program pays an average of $936 per month toward a veteran's rent.
To date, DCHA has provided 744 homeless veterans in the District with housing.
"The men and women who serve their country deserve as much attention and care after they've completed their service, as when they're at war," said D.C. Housing Authority Executive Director Adrianne Todman. "As a country, we owe them at least a safe place to live when they return home."
Richardson's story is just one of many.
Marco Thomas recalls the years he spent in the military with fondness. Raised by his grandparents on a tobacco farm in St. Mary's County, Md., Thomas followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and uncles and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1984.
"I really enjoyed the travels and the fact that I [was able] to learn a second language, which was German," said Thomas, 50, a former telecommunications systems operator, discharged from the military in 1987. "That was really neat. I always wanted to learn another language. I really was able to do what I liked at the time."
But like the more than 800,000 homeless veterans across America, Thomas' life changed after being diagnosed with a mental illness. He lost his job and eventually, his home, in 2008.
"I lived with family for a while and with friends," said Thomas, who spent most of his military service in Germany. "But they're only going to help you but so much when you don't have an income. When all of those resources ran out, that's when I really became homeless."
Thomas bounced between friends' couches, his vehicle and District homeless shelters for three years while attempting to find a job. The dismal economic climate only made his search more difficult.
"I cannot remember a time that I didn't work up until the time that I became disabled," he said. "And that's when times became hard ...When I was going through it, I still didn't consider myself disabled and I still wanted to work, but the doctors wouldn't let me return."
Help for Thomas came after he contacted DCHA-VASH. He was accepted into the program in October 2010, and now has a home of his own.
"It was immediate," said Thomas, who lives in Southeast. "They gave me a call, gave me the paperwork and it was about a 10-day turnaround and I was in my own place. It was really great. I thought that it would take longer," he said with a smile.
For more information about DCHA-VASH, call: (202) 636-7660