CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) – When you look at the streets of Chicago and see people who are homeless, do you ever wonder how they got there? Know this: one in five of them are veterans.
Cassandra Andrades is a decorated veteran, with 10 years in the military. She was in active combat situations more times than she can count. So, why is she homeless? It’s not due to drugs or mental illness; rather, three layoffs in a bad economy and a difficult adjustment to civilian life.
“Being female and a veteran…it’s hard,” says Andrades. “It’s very depressing but then if don’t have somewhere to go you lose hope.”
“I cried when I had to come here,” she continues. “You hear on the news all the time about a person one pay period away from being homeless well that’s me.”
Now, Andrades is at A Safe Haven, a facility which offers personal space, healthy meals, healthcare, drug and alcohol treatment and job training.
“At the end of the day all they really needed was a place to live a place to get help and to get back on their feet,” A Safe Haven owner Neli Vasquez explains. “They needed a roof over their head a safe place to be, they needed three healthy nutritious meals.”
Neli Vasquez Rowland and her husband Brian founded A Safe Haven nearly 20 years ago. Before the facility’s creation, there was no one place for people to go to find food, shelter, treatment options and ultimately the key to self-sufficiency: a job. Since A Safe Haven opened, hundreds of lives have been changed.
“It’s through our staffing services we are able to make introductions, open the doors, get those interviews in the first place,” Vasquez explains. “There’s a huge initiative by employers that are looking to hire veterans, for example their challenge how do they find them?”
Safe Haven resident Terry Pointer is on the road to a new life. Like 30 percent of vets, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Even now, it’s hard for him to walk on grass. He can’t help think about landmines that might explode.
“We are basically trained to not think about family so much,” Pointer says. “Once you think about family that means your death out there that means your heart goes in different place than just doing your job.”
He’s working through the anger and PTSD issues of his past toward a better future.