At the age of almost 80, John, a veteran from Lucas County, began volunteering at a local Bowling Green food pantry earlier this year. He always wears a military hat. That makes it easier for people who meet John to start conversations about his service, and for John to share information about resources that can help veterans or anyone else who needs support.
But only a few months ago, John himself was facing a housing crisis and needed help through the Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP) Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. The program was able to help John secure stable housing.
“I’m really grateful for the help I’ve received,” he said. “It makes a world of difference.”
Whether talking about the support he’s received through SSVF or his service in Vietnam, John frequently evokes a sense of gratitude, even when the experiences he shares include loss and hardship.
John joined the U.S. Navy in 1965. He came from a military family. Born in 1945, just before the end of World War II, John spent his childhood travelling back and forth between military bases in Galveston, Texas, and Nebraska, before ending up in Michigan and northwest Ohio, where his father worked. John’s travels continued when he joined the Navy, training at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, then schooling in Texas before heading further west to California.
“I elected to go—I was a volunteer all the way,” John said.
From there, John recalls key moments that punctuated his military experiences: a helicopter that malfunctioned and blew up offshore of the Pacific Ocean, killing all on board when he was stationed at Long Beach prior to deployment overseas; seeing the name of a classmate who died while serving in Vietnam at the same time as himself; a rocket that struck the opposite side of a building he shared while living as a soldier among civilians in Vietnam. Though the rocket failed to detonate, it struck and killed the people living on the other side.
“If it had exploded,” John said, “I wouldn’t be here talking today.”
After his service ended in 1970, he found life was not easier in the United States, and that after returning, he even realized that he had felt more secure overseas.
“Some who were against Vietnam took their anger out on the people who served,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on; I just knew that I felt safer in Vietnam.”
Still, John has no reservations about his experience.
“I always felt I wanted to serve. I never regret any moment of my life. I served proudly.”
More than fifty years after serving, John found himself in need of support. His wife entered nursing care, and he became one of the many veterans and seniors who, due to fixed income, medical bills, and other life circumstances, needed help with housing. John’s daughter-in-law referred him to GLCAP’s SSVF program, which provides housing assistance as well as other supportive services for veterans. John connected with Perian Hall, one of GLCAP’s SSVF family advocates who works with veterans who are homeless or facing homelessness.
Perian was able to help John with SSVF Shallow Subsidy Rental support to provide temporary rental assistance while he waits to move into an available senior income-based housing unit. Perian was also able to refer John to services that can help with utility payments, medical assistance, and other needs.
“I absolutely love my job,” Perian said. “I wouldn’t want to change it for the world. It’s where I’m supposed to be—being able to help veterans who are in an unfortunate situation, or some happen to come upon hard times like John."
With the SSVF support, John has also been able to pay down debt, and in spite of some recent health challenges, he remains hopeful that he can get back to volunteering at the pantry and continuing to help others in need.
“I like to do that because being veteran, I can talk to other veterans about getting help,” he said. “Not just veterans — anybody. I love helping people.”