A Reunion 25 Years in the Making

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Date: Thursday, July 9 2020

A 60-something veteran of Vietnam, Ken enrolled in St. Vincent de Paul’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF) during fall, preceding a winter that was expected to be extraordinarily harsh.He had been homeless for the better part of 25 years and was suffering from PTSD. He got by on a small VA disability benefit, living rough in the woods, or in his car.

Within a month, SSVF staff secured suitable permanent housing for Ken, a unit in a quiet, woodsy area perfect for finding peace and relaxation. But transitioning into housing is not always easy. Ken had trouble sleeping indoors, as he was used to sleeping without walls, and with a clear view of the sky.

As luck would have it, Ken’s private, upstairs balcony turned out to be a perfect spot for sleeping under the stars. The SSVF staff suggested he start by sleeping on the balcony. Eventually he became accustomed to sleeping inside, but he made the transition in his own time.

Then came the contact that changed everything, as Ken described in an emotional phone call to his SSVF case manager. He could hardly contain himself as he shared that a private investigator (PI) hired by his sister had been looking for him all the years he was homeless. This was followed by an emotional phone conversation with the sister, who Ken had not seen since entering military service.He learned that his parents had passed, but he had siblings eager for an immediate family reunion.

Another transition. Ken was excited about seeing his long-lost family, but he needed time to overcome his anxiety over being housed after so many years, and then having siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins re-enter his life. As Ken explained to his case manager, when he was discharged from the service and suffering PTSD, he didn’t want to be a burden to his family.

Having nowhere else to go, he elected to travel, never staying in one place for long. Ken shared that he didn't contact his family because he didn’t want them to see how poorly he was faring. From the PI’s perspective, the tide turned when Ken began receiving homeless services at St. Vincent de Paul’s Eugene Service Station. That narrowed the field geographically. When Ken became housed and got a permanent address, the search was over.

By the time he exited SSVF, Ken was expecting a visit from his sister. Together they would plan Ken’s trip back East, to see the family.

Reuniting clients with estranged family has been a goal of St. Vincent de Paul’s veteran programs since their formation under the direction of longtime Housing Programs Director Anne Williams who died in February 2020. There’s no more fitting way to honor her now than to share this story of housing, a prospective family reunion, and a veteran reclaiming his life.