Stop and think for a moment, how many times you have seen a man or woman on the corner of a street holding a cardboard sign with the words “homeless veteran” printed in marker?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in January 2017, approximately 40,056 veterans were homeless. Three out of five of those veterans were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing, while two out of five were found in places considered “not suitable for human habitation.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 600 of those homeless veterans reside in Kentucky.
Recognizing a local need to provide housing for these veterans, previous Director of St. Benedict’s Shelter Joe Welsh and current Executive Director of St. Benedict’s Harry E. Pedigo established the Honor House at 1100 West 11th Street last year.
“You wouldn’t catch one of my guys holding a sign,” Pedigo said of the veterans that he houses at the shelter and the Honor House.
While there are currently four veterans living at the Honor House, there is one particular veteran at St. Benedict’s Shelter that the staff has been especially drawn to. The staff refers to this man as “Sam.” Sam is a former U.S. Army veteran that was a resident at Honor House up until about six months ago, when he was unable to uphold the required criteria to stay and opted to enroll in a six-month rehabilitation program.
“Sam is always smiling,” said Haley Cooper, a graduate student in social work who has been volunteering at the shelter for three months, and will soon be interning for the next six. “He is so grateful for the little things we take for granted like a cup of hot coffee or a pair of socks.”
Sam, who grew up in Louisville the youngest of five children to a Baptist preacher, said his family moved around a lot. This transient lifestyle led Sam to attend seven different schools, resulting in only an eighth-grade education. Sam proceeded to earn his GED (General Education Diploma) and join the U.S. Army in 1978, serving four years in transportation.
“Looking back, I think all of that moving around kind of made me insecure because I was always the new guy,” Sam said.
Those insecurities have plagued Sam for the majority of his life, through the success and loss of jobs he loved and two marriages that ended in divorce. However, it wasn’t so much the insecurities, but the way that he chose to mask them that seemed to cause him the most difficulty.
“I’ve been battling drugs on and off pretty much my whole life,” Sam said. “I had periods where I was pretty much clean, [but otherwise] cocaine was my drug of choice, and alcohol.”
There was a point in Sam’s life a little over five years ago where he said, “life was good.”
“I literally thought I was living the American dream,” Sam said, adding that he had a good marriage and a house with a large amount of acreage.
Then he was involved in a car accident that injured his back and neck, which quickly led to an addiction to opiates, which he said was worse than being addicted to cocaine.
“The opiates are worse. It’s different because you get addicted mentally to the cocaine whereas the opiates, it’s a physical addiction to those,” Sam said. “I had never been addicted to anything like that. I had done a lot of drugs in my life but I had never become physically addicted until I started doing those.”
While Sam has attempted rehab several times in his life, it wasn’t until this last time, six months ago, when he truly began to see a transformation.
“I was ready to go to rehab and get straightened out,” Sam said. “I went to Owensboro Regional Recovery for six months — it’s like the boot camp of rehabs.”
Sam recently celebrated six months of being clean and sober, something he hasn’t done in a long time. He credits the staff at St. Benedict’s for being there for him every step of the way.
“This place here, these people here — this is just a beautiful thing,” Sam said. “It’s just been a major blessing for me. They help you with whatever you need help with.”
Sam mentioned that the staff has many connections they use to assist the residents, including helping them to obtain birth certificates, attend therapy and rehab and receive a warm meal.
“I would be in worse shape than I am right now for sure if it wasn’t for them,” Sam said. “If you told me that I was going to be here, even two years ago, I would’ve never believed it.”
Cooper added that the majority of the residents at St. Benedict’s have a similar attitude.
“It’s different than what you think,” Copper said. “A lot of the guys are so grateful for what we do — you are immediately made to feel like family.”