After almost ten years of living in a tent in the woods of Southeast Washington, DC, army veteran Tony Jones is finally getting his own home.
“I can’t even express in words how I feel right now. I just know I feel, I feel great,” Jones said. “I feel good. I feel like James Brown, I feel good! AOWWW!”
Through the help of Miriam’s Kitchen, Jones obtained a Veterans Administration voucher to cover his renting fees. Miriam’s Kitchen is a non-profit in DC mandated to end homelessness in the area by providing housing and food to the area’s less fortunate. The organization claims to have a 92 percent success rate in keeping people off the street.
No one in Jones’ family knew he was homeless, despite the fact that he still kept in touch with them and occasionally visited his mother. He said that as a grown man, he didn’t want sympathy from others.
“My case was I was too scared to ask for help. I was embarrassed about it. I didn’t know what to do until [my caseworker] sent me in the right direction.”
Emily Buzzell, Jones’ caseworker at Miriam’s Kitchen, pointed out that it will be easier for him to look for employment now that he has a place to live and properly prepare himself to meet people and go out on interviews.
“We operate under the housing first philosophy which is exactly what it sounds like. Housing comes first and then once somebody gets a roof over their head. Then everything else falls in place a lot easier.”
Despite his humble living conditions, Jones said he considered himself lucky, as he had shelter while camped out in the wilderness while many others who live on DC’s sidewalks don’t. A middle-aged, down-to-earth man, Jones describes his passion for comic books and for writing poems about his wife while he was by himself living in the woods.
“The good thing about being lonely here is that I am always her one and only,” Jones once wrote. “Her only one.”
Jones recounted being checked in on by the police during violent snowstorms to make sure that he was safe; they never harassed him once because of his living situation. He spoke of indulging in his book collection as well, including his mother’s bible and books by Stephen King and Sandra Brown.
He claimed that he joined the army to prove himself, and he says it hardened him and prepared him to brave the difficult life he’s led in recent years.
“You think you can’t push no further but [the army] will push you beyond the limits where you think you can go…the army brings that out in you.”
Jones was only one of almost 50,000 homeless veterans living in America as of November 2015, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Addressing veteran homelessness has been a significant priority for the Obama administration, one that it had originally hoped to bring to an end by the end of the year.
Though still high, the rate of veterans living on the street has dropped significantly, as 74,000 were homeless as of 2010. First Lady Michelle Obama had been hosting her own campaign to fight the issue in her Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. At the time that it was was announced in June 2014, 77 cities had joined the project. That number has since expanded to 255.
“Whatever the number, these brave men and women have served this country with grace courage and grace,” the First Lady said at her announcement for her campaign. “Too many of them have come home to fight a new battle. A battle to keep a roof over their head, a battle to have somewhere to go when it rains.
“Even one homeless veteran is a shame…We should be horrified because that’s not who we are as Americans. We can’t just throw up our hands and say that this problem is too big for us. The truth is that it’s not.”