Veteran Finds Home at the End of the Road

Your support helps former soldiers move forward

With your help, Caritas of Austin has been a leader in ending veterans’ homelessness, working closely with City of Austin leaders, the real estate community, and local service providers to address the causes of chronic homelessness for all veterans.

“Veterans experience homelessness at disproportionately high rates due to the difficult transition from military to civilian life,” said Quiana Fisher, former manager of Caritas of Austin’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). “We believe that anyone who has served our country should never experience homelessness.”

SSVF is designed to end this trend, building well-being for our nation’s heroes through services that range from landlord outreach and financial assistance to support in accessing veterans’ benefits.

When Jerry Houston returned home from Bosnia in 2003 after serving his country in the Army for 10 years, homelessness definitely was not a part of his plans.

“I came back to Austin, very gung ho about everything I was going to get into,” he said, recalling that his family and friends had encouraged him to complete his military career so he could be present for his small children.

But his plans for civilian life derailed quickly after he got involved for a few days with “some of the wrong people,” seeking quick financial gain, and landed in legal trouble.

“I was this promising soldier – I was the good one, always treated like a war hero,” he recalled. “But then, everything from that one decision really sent my life spiraling,”

The challenges that he faced in the years that followed affected not only Jerry, but also his two children. Family members offered what help they could as he tried to balance limited opportunities and providing for his children. That help included a van that they considered home for more than two years. There, he tried to provide as normal a life as possible for his now-teenage daughter and younger son.

“Not having a place to live and actually wake up and think about our plans was becoming an issue for me,” he remembers.

He actively sought jobs and assistance, but he ran into one obstacle after another. Then one summer day in 2018, he got a call that changed the direction his life had been going.

A New Place to Call Home

Now Jerry, his 13-year-old daughter, who enjoys painting, and his 11-year-old son, who loves to read, have a place to call home.

Jerry said having a safe, permanent home made the remaining obstacles he faced seem more manageable. The family’s apartment provides a space to plan his next steps. And other Caritas services also have helped, from providing training in new skills to making sure they have access to groceries from the pantry.

Jerry’s case managers at Caritas and Goodwill Central Texas worked with him to navigate the steps and access the equipment and training needed to obtain a commercial driver’s license. He achieved that milestone late in 2018. Now he is putting those new skills to work, driving tractor trailers and dump trucks at his new job with an Austin paving company.

This opportunity enables him to earn a sustainable living and make it home at night to spend time with his family.

“So it has taken me to 39 years old to really get my feet back up under me and try to make something of my life,” Jerry said.

Buoyed by his accomplishments, Jerry is beginning to plan for his family’s future, including a goal to send his children to college, own a home, and eventually drive his own truck.

Jerry’s story is one example of hundreds of our neighbors each year who are working to overcome unexpected obstacles and get their lives back on the right path. He encourages others facing similar challenges to never give up.

Your support makes it possible for Caritas of Austin to help neighbors like Jerry build well-being by providing access to safe homes, healthy groceries, and help with training, life skills and connections to jobs so they can reach their full potential and contribute to our community.