After Thomas left the army, he became a correctional officer in a Tennessee prison. He did not know then but this prison would soon force him down a dark path. 

While on the job, Thomas faced threats and terrible treatment because he’s a Black man. White supremacist groups would harass him and vandalize his belongings. To escape this reality, Thomas turned to drugs. His addiction soon began to rule his life, and eventually Thomas became homeless.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are more than 40,000 veterans living on the streets night and day. About 45 percent are African-American, despite the fact that they only make up 10 percent of the veteran population. Homelessness is a burden that affects millions of people across the U.S. In Chicago, more than 5,000 people are homeless and there aren’t enough temporary shelters for all of them, according to an article published by Fox News.

Northside Housing and Supportive Services (NSHSS) is one of  United Way of Metro Chicago’s many partners in the region that offer housing and supportive services to veterans. United Way helps our neighbors meet their basic needs like housing by investing in nonprofits and community organizations like NSHSS.  

Recently, NSHSS began helping veterans find shelter and programs to benefit their future. One of their programs is called the Veterans Housing Initiative. Thomas is one veteran who connected with NSHSS for help. 

Thomas worked with several different veteran programs before he was referred to NSHSS’ Veteran Housing Initiative. NSHSS services helped Thomas in more ways than he could imagine. “I was a guy who said, ‘I’ll get high ’til I die.’ I don’t have that desire any more. Not at all,” Thomas told NSHSS.

Thomas has been participating in their veteran program for 8 years now. NSHSS connected him to housing and support in his journey to sobriety.  Thomas never knew that this much support and kindness could be shown to him. “It changed the way I see things. I didn’t think there were people who cared like that. When a person is struggling in life, they don’t need threats or punishment, they need help,” Thomas said. 

With NSHSS’ support, Thomas can now focus on his sobriety and future. 

You can support veterans like Thomas by making a gift to United Way and its community partners. Donate today!


Story by Jessica Jones, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist