From Homeless to Housed: Three Veterans’ Stories at Eagle’s Landing

Meet Henry, Franky, and Michael

Explore the transformative journey of three veterans at Eagle’s Landing, delving into their compelling stories of resilience and redemption.

Meet Henry, a retired contractor and Army veteran who found himself living in isolation in Mobile, AL, amidst personal tragedy. Discover how Franky, a former Navy veteran, endured years of destitution in Panama City, FL before seeking refuge at Eagle’s Landing. Hear from Michael, a former Marine, who overcame adversity with the support of the Eagle’s Landing community.

Through their experiences, gain insight into the comprehensive array of services provided by Eagle’s Landing, ranging from counseling and vocational training to financial management education and access to healthcare. Join us in supporting veterans like Henry, Franky, and Michael on their journey towards stability and independence.

Sometimes when he wants to relax, Henry, a retired contractor and Army veteran from Mobile, AL, will drive out to go fishing along the Arlington Channel, behind the U.S. Coast Guard base. It’s a lonely little stretch of swamp where you have to keep an eye out for alligators. The container cranes of McDuffie Terminal loom off in the distance loading and unloading freight from ships making their way up the Mobile Bay.

It’s not a very welcoming place. But a few years ago, it’s where Henry lived.

“About 2015, I had a death in the family,” Henry says. “My momma had passed; my brother, he had passed. It was like everything fell apart.”

Suffering from rapidly worsening health and cut off from friends and family, Henry ended up living on the streets. He eventually made his way to an encampment in the swamp along the coast.

Coming back from rock bottom

It’s a story Henry shares with many other veterans who managed to turn their lives around at Eagle’s Landing, VOA Southeast’s transitional housing community in Mobile, AL. Eagle’s Landing is a place where veterans who are homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness can live independently for up to two years while they work with VOA Southeast case managers to get their lives back on track.

Franky, a 70-year-old Navy veteran currently living at Eagle’s Landing, lived in a shed in Panama City, FL for nearly a decade before he got help. When he was younger he worked with horses at racetracks throughout the United States for 28 years, but suffered a rapid decline after he wasn’t able to physically do the work any more. He ended up in Panama City unable to find a job and living under a bridge until some friends let him stay in their shed.

Depression, destitution, and alcoholism kept him in worse and worse circumstances for years. Finally, the shed was destroyed by Hurricane Ian in 2022. Franky found himself back outdoors again before he learned about Eagle’s Landing and took action to help himself.

“It got to the point that I didn’t care about myself or anything,” says Franky. “It got to where I didn’t have any clothes left worth wearing. If I had any money I was drinking it up. I lived to get up the next morning and drink a cold beer cause I didn’t have anything else.“

“A lot of guys come here, they don’t have nothing: no clothes, no toiletries, none of that,” says Michael Williams, a 61-year-old former Marine who lived at Eagle’s Landing for nine months before moving into permanent housing. Michael now lives on his own but returns to the community every week to participate in regular meetings and help other veterans who are going through problems similar to the ones he was facing.

“I still come to meetings and still go to chapel, so I still see the guys here. I’m showing them that it works.”

“A shining star” for veterans’ services

Eagle’s Landing was built in 2012, drawing together about $2.5 million in funding from the Mobile County Commission, the U.S. Congress, and the Veterans Administration.

“For a long time in our community there really wasn’t anyone providing services to homeless veterans in this community,” says Sherry Atchison, VOA Southeast’s Director of Project Development. But now, she said, “[The program] really is a shining star for the Veterans Administration because we have so much community support.”

Residents at Eagle’s Landing all live in their own apartments with their own separate entrances on a spread out campus that’s also home to a $50,000 award-winning community garden and facilities for recreation, community events, and worship. The apartments at Eagle’s Landing come fully furnished: new residents get new clothes, cleaning supplies, basic items for health and hygiene, access to a community food pantry, kitchen appliances so they can prepare meals – everything they need to begin returning to a normal routine.

“You get your own apartment,” says Michael. “It’s not like the mission where you’re all grouped together. You have time to think about stuff. You can bathe like you’re supposed to. You get a lot of donations. You get shaving stuff, stuff to brush your teeth. They’ve got clothes, you’ve got a pantry. You don’t have to worry about any of that. You just need to concentrate on your goal and what you’re supposed to do.”

The evolution of housing solutions for the homeless

Atchison says that transitional housing is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to helping homeless veterans at Eagle’s Landing by connecting them with a multitude of resources and services. Back in 2004, when the Veterans Administration first put aside $400,000 to initiate the project, the goal was just “heads in beds,” as Atchison puts it. It was just about getting people off the streets.

In the decades since, the focus has shifted to viewing temporary housing as merely one of a series of wraparound support services provided to homeless veterans to help them reintegrate into the community.

“A lot of the work at Eagle’s Landing is building rapport and trust because that’s what’s been lost all these years living on the street or in precarious situations,” she says.

That was Franky’s experience. “When I moved here… I wasn’t used to being in a community,” he says. “Everyone I was used to talking on the streets, they wanted something. But here, people would actually help you… They’re helping you get back on your feet to the point where you can leave here and actually feel comfortable about living.”

“Miss Deborah [Murph, program director] came and got me at like 6:30 at night at the bus station. She brought me here, we came through the gate and it was like, ‘Wow!’ She opened the apartment for me, I walked in, and it was like walking into a condo as far I was concerned.”

Housing is just one element in a whole continuum of services aimed at restoring veterans’ ability to live healthy, happy, and independent lives again. Services include:

  • Counseling and support for the housing search
  • Financial management education
  • Vocational training
  • Education and daily living skills
  • Assistance with transportation
  • Help accessing health care, legal services, and other public benefits.

Michael says that he especially benefited from the course on budgeting and financial planning. He began building a savings account, working on building his credit, and keeping a daily log book of all his spending.

“It definitely helped me to save money, and you definitely have to have your credit right to qualify for housing,” he says. “[Landlords] want to know you’re able and responsible enough to pay rent.”

“I’d have never made it another year.”

Getting a spot at Eagle’s Landing was “the best thing that could have happened to me,” says Franky. Looking back on how he was living before he came there, Franky says he doesn’t think he would have lasted on his own much longer.

“I don’t think I’d have made [it to] 70, to be honest with you. I’d have never made it another year with what I was doing. Either someone would have killed me out on the street or I’d have been in jail, or something bad.”

Like other veterans who’ve been or are still in the program, Franky wishes more people understood just how much help is available for former service members who’ve fallen on hard times.

“I feel like the majority of people that are out there who feel like there’s no help at all, if you see anything about this place here, get into it. Cause it’s a life changer. Completely.”

But first you have to want help.

Finding strength in community

When Henry first moved into his apartment after living out in the swamp, he had trouble adjusting.

“It was kinda rough when I first got in,” he says. “Just me being here compared to where I was. It wasn’t them, it was me. I was trying to accept the situation I was in.”

Henry says he didn’t really become a part of the community until the former property manager enlisted his help with several ongoing projects at Eagle’s Landing, first with tending the community garden and then building a chapel. As a former contractor, Henry’s instincts kicked into gear once he had a project he could work on for the community.

“Back when I was contracting, I was building houses from the floor up to the ceiling, so I already had all that knowledge.”

“He’s grown so much since he’s been in the program,” says Deborah Murph, the Director of Eagles’ Landing. She says that when she first began working with Henry, “he came in my office, he looked at me, and said, ‘I’m not coming in here and working with you. I had a case manager before you and I had one before that. I’ve got a chapel to build!’”

But Deborah was persistent, meeting with Henry outside in a chapel with no roof, going over the materials he needed to file with Social Security and the Veterans Administration – even repeating the process multiple times after missing records from Henry’s service in Korea resulted in denials for some of their initial applications.

Henry was moved by how persistent Deborah was working with him. Even now that he’s moved out and lives in a permanent stable home, he still comes by all the time to talk with Deborah and attend services at the chapel. He even drives a van to pick people up for services.

“It’s a very good program, the VOA,” Henry says. “If you put something into it, you’ll get something out of it.”

Support veterans in need

Eagle’s Landing is all about re-integrating people into the community. That’s why your support is so critical. For over a decade, VOA Southeast has been helping veterans with nowhere left to turn get the resources they need at Eagle’s Landing to return to healthy, productive, independent lives. Our organization positively impacts the lives of over 47,000 people just like Henry, Franky, and Michael throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

Make a one time donation or consider giving to us monthly to sustain our work!

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