TAMPA — During two tours of duty in Iraq as an Army medic, Jeremy Haddock coped with the horrific injuries he saw by focusing on those he could help.
But he could no longer keep the images at bay once he returned to life as a civilian.
In jobs like customer service and life insurance sales, he was successful at first. But after a few months, a crippling surge of anxiety made it almost impossible to concentrate and eventually, he would lose his job.
“I could only fake it for so long," he said. "You end up stuck here wondering why you’re failing. It’s because you have demons in the closet.”
Unable to keep a job, Haddock, 38, ended up homeless. For the past two months, he has lived in a shelter.
Mental health issues like post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and physical disabilities put veterans at higher risk for homelessness. So on the day the nation celebrated those who have served in the military, local service agencies banded together to get 25 veterans off the street and out of shelters by providing them permanent housing. The initiative, named for the bugle call that wakes military personnel, is known as Operation Reveille.
The event was launched in 2014 with the lofty goal of ending veteran homelessness. Five years on, organizers now work toward a more realistic target of making veteran homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, said Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.
The 25 veterans chosen to receive housing this year were selected based on how vulnerable they are, she said. Those attending the event held at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum were also provided an array of other social services including help finding medical care and financial and legal advice.
Coming up with 25 vacant apartments took the combined efforts of Hillsborough County Homeless Services, the Tampa Housing Authority, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Tampa Crossroads and others. Most of the veterans qualify for a housing voucher through a federal program known as HUD/VASH, which combine efforts by local housing authorities and Veterans Administration physical and mental health programs.
Organizers often have to reassure landlords to take tenants who may be recovering addicts or have criminal records. In some cases, this is done through guarantees that unpaid rent will be covered, Hayes-Triplett said. Case managers will make regular visits to ensure veterans are getting the help they need.
Almost 40,000 U.S. veterans were homeless during 2018 counts conducted around the nation and compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This includes about 150 veterans in Hillsborough, down from about 236 in 2014 when Operation Reveille first was launched, Hayes-Triplett said.
Jessie Jackson served in the Army for four years with the 19th Maintenance Battalion. After he left the service, he struggled for years to overcome an addiction to crack cocaine that eventually put him on the streets.
He said he has been clean for the past year and working as a cook at a DoubleTree Hotel while living in a shelter. Hearing that he will get his own apartment is a life changer, he said.
“When I turn the key and get through the door and I can relax and know it’s mine, I’ll feel safe,” he said.
On Monday, Jackson sat alongside Andrew Morrow at Veterans memorial park, 3602 U.S. 301, enjoying a plate of chicken wings and pizza provided for homeless veterans.
The 67-year-old Clearwater native served only 10 months before he was badly injured during basic training at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was just 19.
After that, Morrow worked for a utility company until a series of health issues stopped him from working.
He became homeless about seven months ago after he spent two weeks in hospital recovering from a heart attack. When he returned to his Tampa apartment, his belongings were piled outside next to the trash.
He has family in the area, but said he has been sleeping on the streets close to Fletcher and Nebraska avenues. His children also are “living hard” and in no position to support him.
“People are glad to see you for two weeks," he said. “Then they’re glad to get rid of you.”
Sleeping on the street has taken an emotional toll, Morrow said. A diabetic, he has nowhere to store his medication.
“Sometimes you wake up and start crying,” he said. “I just want a nice place where I can have dinner and stuff with my family and grandchildren.”