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“You can make your future happen.”

Los Angeles, California

September 2021

My name is Jose. I have a morning ritual. Before the sun rises every morning, I tidy up my apartment, have my coffee and occasionally watch the early news to find out what’s going on in the world.

At 63 I am still a morning person. A habit formed during my time in the Army and also from my structured schedule in prison. Living on the streets of L.A. also taught me to always keep one eye open. You never knew who may be coming at you due to all the substance use and crime.

My life changed dramatically the day I called 2-1-1 and was directed to Volunteers of America Los Angeles. They connected me with their Veterans Peer Access Network program that helps all veterans with whatever they need.

Now I wake up early just because I’m excited to start a new day. I can’t live without being busy. By 6 a.m., I’ve usually done more than most people. I told my peer support specialist that I want to do what he’s doing. My goal in life now is to help others. Wherever I am in my community, I constantly spread the word about how VOALA and VPAN can help. Sometimes, I take the train t

Not that long ago, my life was on a much different path. After countless years of homelessness and living on the street, I was ready for a change. I met someone who had been living on the street like me, and I could see how happy he was after he got help. He had an apartment and his life was so much better. I decided it was time to get help the way he did. I dialed 2-1-1 last year and got connected to VOALA. They gave me a bed and helped me out. I almost cried. I’ve learned to do things the right way.

Whatever challenges I faced in the past I put on myself - and many of those poor choices had serious consequences. I went to prison because of my actions and I became more and more separated from my family.

My family lives in Puerto Rico where I grew up. I am the fourth of five children. My father served 20 years in the military. His deployments included Korea and two tours in Vietnam. Two of his brothers also served. I know my behavior has caused them to feel uncomfortable. They don’t trust me. It took me a while to understand that. The separation hurts but I’m working to make things right. I look forward to the future when my family will be ready for a reunion. I just don’t want to leave this earth without seeing them one more time. Family is everything.

Meanwhile, I will continue to work to make positive, constructive decisions and keep myself busy. During the past year, I changed my behavior. I understand I need to follow the rules.

Last March, a miracle happened. I had been off the streets living in a shelter when my case manager called. He told me to meet him at a certain place, so I went there on the bus. When I got there, he took me to an apartment. I thought that’s nice. It’s an apartment. Why are we here? Then he handed me the keys and said, ‘This is yours.’ I couldn’t believe it. After living for years on the streets with drugs and crime - now this!”

If you were to walk into my apartment now, you’d see a computer with a printer and a TV. Before this, those things wouldn’t be there. It’s not because material things are important. It’s that they are symbols of the changes I’ve made to my life. I think of life as sort of a Christmas tree with gifts underneath. For the past 20 years, I have missed seeing those gifts under the tree. God looks over us. He puts the gifts there and waits for you. The gifts were mine the whole time, but I just wasn’t there to receive them.

That motivated me to try to figure out how to give back what I received. Because I see what’s possible. I am now working to become a peer support specialist. And, as a resident of the Second District of Los Angeles County, I was recently nominated as Veteran of the Year. My life is really looking up.

When someone out on the streets asks me for help, I have a plan. I will call 2-1-1 and hand them the phone so they can talk with someone. Then I’ll take them on a bus where they need to go. I’ll tell them everything about VOALA and VPAN and what they’ve done for me and what they will do for them. And I will tell anyone who will listen, “You can make your future happen.”

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