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Veterans Health Administration

Lost, and Found

woman sitting on concrete steps

Home sweet home —
formerly homeless Veteran Kay Waldrop relaxes on the front steps of her new home.

Kay Waldrop had finally hit bottom. She was drinking heavily. Using drugs. Getting into trouble with the law.

Waldrop had spent 13 years in uniform — six with the Army and seven with the Oregon National Guard. But after she left military service, her life began to unravel.

“I kept getting myself into bad relationships,” she said. “It’s a cycle. It’s just like you’re on a hamster wheel, and you can’t get off. When you don’t feel good about yourself, you can get to a point where you want to give up.”

Then one morning she decided that giving up was not an option.

“I just got sick of living like I was living,” the 53-year-old explained. “I couldn’t go on like I was. So I took a 100-mile bus ride to the VA in Roseburg (Oregon).”

“Having a home is so important to me. It’s a place where you can be safe, and heal.”

— Kay Waldrop, Veteran

Taher Kashuba, a case manager at the VA Roseburg Health Care System, distinctly remembers her first encounter with Waldrop.

“I was the first person Kay saw that morning when she arrived here at the VA,” she said. “I got off the elevator, and there she was, with just her backpack.”

“I really dumped on her,” Waldrop said, laughing. “I poured my heart out to her. And she listened.”

The Army Veteran was desperate to rebuild her life. But she soon came to realize it wasn’t going to happen overnight.

“You have to show that you’re willing to do the work,” Waldrop observed. “It’s like a ladder. You can’t go up the rungs until you do the work at the bottom.”

“First we got Kay into a nearby shelter for battered persons, where she could feel safe,” Kashuba explained. “Next, we got her into our outpatient substance abuse counseling group with other Veterans.

“The group setting is important,” Kashuba continued, “because a lot of our Veteran outpatients are somewhat isolated, socially. They don’t have a social support system, or too much contact with their families. Frankly, a lot of them have burned their bridges, so to speak. So we try to provide that support here at VA.”

“I’m by myself now,” Waldrop said, “so I need to do healthy things, with healthy people. I need to learn how to socialize.”

These days, Kay’s social calendar is getting pretty full.

“I go to a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) self esteem support group at Roseburg,” she said. “The group is all women. I also go to a women’s AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) group once a week. I have the support of a lot of women here at Roseburg. I didn’t realize how important it was to have the support of women.”

With her support system in place, Kay Waldrop’s next mission — her next rung on the ladder — was finding a place to call home. It wasn’t easy.

“Because of my drug history, and my criminal history, we had a hard time trying to find a place for me,” Waldrop said. “But Taher never gave up. She stuck with me.”

“Kay and I went around to a lot of places together, filling out applications,” said Kashuba.

Eventually, Waldrop finally found a home thanks to a landlord who understands the plight of homeless Veterans.

“He’s actually a chaplain for the Vietnam Veterans of America,” Kashuba explained. “He wants to help Vets. He said he had a nice house he would rent to Kay. And it was in the historic district, no less!”

“It has hardwood floors!” Waldrop pointed out. “And a porch. And a garden out back!”

Waldrop’s part-time job as a supply stocker at the Roseburg VA helps pay for her share of the rent. She’s responsible for 30 percent of it. The Department of Housing and Urban Development picks up the rest, thanks to a federal partnership called the HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program.

Lon Laughlin, a social work executive at Roseburg, said HUD and VA make a good team.

“Ending homelessness is more than placing a roof over someone’s head,” he explained. “HUD provides rent subsidies, while VA provides case management. That kind of partnership significantly increases the likelihood that the front door of a home won’t be a revolving one.”

“When she moved in, Kay didn’t have anything,” Kashuba said. “She had a backpack, and an air mattress. Kay and I went throughout the community to try and find furniture for her home. One of the local furniture places donated a mattress.”

Kashuba said many of the other household items that now populate Waldrop’s new home are donations from private citizens. “We were given chairs, lamps, a TV, kitchenware, curtains, and other household items,” she said. “The people in this community are very generous.”

As luck would have it, Waldrop moved into her new digs just days before her youngest son, Wayne, deployed to Afghanistan. Nineteen-year-old Wayne was able to visit his mom, in her own place, shortly before he shipped out. His older brother Simon accompanied him on the visit.

“It was reassuring to them to see that their mother was safe,” Kashuba said.

“They’re really good boys,” Waldrop said. “Things are great between us now, but they didn’t use to be. We had a trust issue there for a while, when I was using.”

“I’ve missed them,” she added. “It’s nice to have them back in my life. And now I have a place where they can come and be with me whenever they want.”