Once-homeless Veteran no longer adrift thanks to VA community life raft
For Maine Veteran Bill Marinelli, becoming homeless at age 70 was like finding himself floating aimlessly down a river.
“You see people on the banks,” he explains, “but you’re not a part of them.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but a friend, community partners and our staff from the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maine Health Care System would soon form a life raft, rescuing Marinelli from the rolling waters of homelessness and shoring him up with health care, transitional housing and a path to stability.
Finding Himself Adrift
We’ve heard Marinelli’s all-too-familiar story before: He lived for years on a property that eventually sold. Evicted from his home, he moved into his car, a “temporary” situation that lasted more than two years.
As an aging Veteran in an unstable housing situation, Marinelli’s unaddressed health issues worsened. In his eighth decade of life, he was homeless, partially blind from cataracts, and living with high blood pressure and cholesterol. Without clear vision, he could no longer write the lyrics for songs to play on his guitar and beloved keyboard.
Despair turned to danger when his car was forced off the road and no longer running. With nowhere left to go, Marinelli’s friend advised him to get help from the community and VA.
“Veterans,” his friend reminded him, “do not live in their cars.”
Seeing the Future More Clearly
From there, Bill let the caring members of his community into his life.
He first stop was the York County Homeless Shelter. “When I realized that I wasn’t going to spend another night in the car,” he says, “I just broke down like a baby. But it was like tears of joy.”
A Volunteers of America (VOA) outreach worker met Marinelli at the shelter and introduced him to me. As the grant and per diem liaison with the VA Maine Health Care System, I helped Bill enroll in VA health care and expedited approval to pay for eyesight-restoring cataract surgery and other needed health services. I oversee his ongoing VA and community services at his new home, the Arthur B. Huot House, a VA-funded VOA program that provides 10 transitional efficiency units for homeless Veterans in Maine.
Thanks to VA, the help of community partners and the timely advice of a friend, Marinelli can now see the outlines of the leaves on the trees, the petals of the flowers and the lyrics to his songs.
He also sees that he was wrong in thinking that there was little hope for Veterans like him.
“I was misled,” he says of VA. “I would urge any Veteran who’s on the street, who’s living in their car, to give this a chance, because it’s an opportunity you don’t understand until you’ve actually experienced it.”
Visit VA’s website to learn about programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
Refer Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless to their local VA Medical Center, where VA staff are ready to assist, or urge them to call 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
About the author: Susan L. Whittington is Grant and Per Diem liaison with the VA Maine Health Care System. She has been a VA Maine social worker since 2008 and, in 2014, was recognized as VA Maine Social Worker of the Year.
About the filmmaker: Sean C. Williams is Visual Conferencing Assistant with the VA Maine Health Care System and has been with VA since April of 2016.
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