Before losing his home, Black was married and using his bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy, working at a local health center. In addition to losing that job due to cutbacks at the facility where he worked, he faced an onslaught of life changes — his mother died, he went through a divorce and learned he had diabetes. He also lost his home.
He couldn’t find a job because it was during the time Wellmont and Mountain States were going through the merger to become Ballad Health, and everywhere Black went he was told there was a hiring freeze.
With nowhere to go, Black began living in his car. He drove from parking lot to parking lot throughout Johnson City to spend the night and worked on trying to find a job during the day.
Through treatment at the VA Medical Center, Black now has his diabetes under control. He’s also in a program working in logistics at the facility.
On Friday, Black and dozens of other veterans attended the annual Veterans Stand Down event, which brought together services to provide homeless veterans and veterans at risk of being homeless with information about substance abuse counseling, employment and training, housing resources, legal resources, haircuts, food, refreshments, clothing and more.
David Shields, community employment specialist at the VA, said Veterans Stand Down is a phrase used in the military when a unit would “stand down” from fighting to get some rest and relaxation, get resupplied and spend time with each other outside of the front lines.
When the national Veterans Stand Down began in the 1980s, that term was used because veterans knew what it meant to stand down. Veterans Stand Down in Johnson City started in 2013.
“Some agencies got together in 2012, and along with the VA planned the first one. We took the lead that first time because the agencies involved weren’t sure what it was,” Shields said. He said the event is important because it provides homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness with a one-stop shop to learn about a variety of services they can use.
“It gives them that feeling they’re important,” Shields said. The event is scheduled in the fall so veterans can receive a new supply of clothes, hygiene products, and other needs to help prepare them for the winter.
Doug Murray, the Homeless Programs Outreach director for ARCH, the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness, said his agency’s role “is to organize and bring together those agencies to provide the best services that we possibly can to the homeless population. If we do not have the resources to be able to help someone, we typically know who does.”
ARCH became involved in the Veteran Stand Down three years ago, and last year took over as lead agency.
“What we do is organize and bring everybody together,” Murray said. “It’s a yearlong process. We couldn’t get it done without the help of the various organizations that help us.”
Agencies that attended the Stand Down included programs throughout the VA Medical Center, the American Job Center, Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Volunteers of America, Soldier’s Angels, CrittersWork, which is an agency that provides service animals to veterans, and Remote Area Medical, which provided dental and vision services.