At 67, Toledo, Ohio, Veteran Charles Kincaid has experienced more than his fair share of ups and downs since he left the military. That he survived, and is now thriving, is testament to his tenacity. It’s also a tribute to a determined network of community supporters, who refused to quit on Kincaid.
Kincaid’s life journey took a downturn starting in the 1990s, when he was incarcerated. Post-release, he experienced homelessness, a common occurrence for those re-entering society from prison. He rented a room in a home, a situation that lasted eight months, but Kincaid had trouble following house rules and moved out.
For a few years, Kincaid sheltered in abandoned garages to avoid the elements. These arrangements led to confrontations with security and police officials. Kincaid was told to move on or risk arrest
Move on he did, making his way in temporary housing situations until things worsened in the summer of 2014. That’s when Kincaid’s identification, food stamp card and bank information were stolen by an unscrupulous minister. After the minister attempted to collect Kincaid’s Social Security payments, his benefits stopped, leaving Kincaid with next to nothing.
During these down years, I, along with various outreach staff from Ann Arbor (Michigan) Healthcare System’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) program, came to know Kincaid. However, like many homeless Veterans of the Vietnam era, he didn’t have a wellspring of trust for VA or for “officialdom” in general.
He kept us at arm’s length, although we managed to provide him with various things he needed—food, clothing, sleeping bags, camping toilet, pillows, blankets, bikes, boots and shoes, and the like.
With Kincaid, we knew we had to build a relationship and earn his trust so he’d be open to taking the next, more difficult step to move to permanent housing.
Challenging Toledo to End Veteran Homelessness
By October 2015, Toledo city officials, social service providers and VA staff were heavily focused on ending homelessness among Veterans once and for all, as part of the Mayor’s Challenge.
That process involved locating and listing every chronically homeless Veteran in need, and Kincaid was on the list. The Mayor’s Challenge response team learned about Kincaid’s background and was briefed on his schedule, where he asked the public for money, where he picked up side work and where he spent the day when it rained, was frigid or too hot.
Within weeks, Kincaid met the executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Lucas County outside its office building. He invited Kincaid to lunch, and they got to know each other. Kincaid started to trust the board’s staff, who informed him of his housing options through VA. Within seven months, Kincaid agreed to apply for housing assistance through the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. He started looking at apartments.
Experiencing the Ultimate “Up” Day
By summer of 2016, things finally started looking up for Kincaid.
After serving time in prison and spending nearly three decades as a homeless Veteran, Kincaid had the ultimate “up” day on June 2, 2016: He moved into his own apartment.
It’s a day VA could not have orchestrated without an array of partners, including Toledo’s own Veterans Matter, which paid the deposit on Kincaid’s apartment and the first two months of rent. This act of generosity literally bought Kincaid time to live in his new home while he completed the paperwork to secure his HUD-VASH voucher and lease. This was also made possible by his new landlord, who trusted Kincaid to get everything in order.
So many other organizations joined VA’s mission to assist Kincaid, including the Veterans Service Commission of Lucas County, Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board and Heroes in Action.
Kincaid is excited to build a new life in his own home, near his support system. As a community, we are here to support Kincaid’s continued success—and make sure every day is an “up” day from here on out.
About the Author: Shawn Dowling, LISW-S, ACSW, is the coordinator for the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program at VA’s Ann Arbor Healthcare System. She has been a homeless advocate for the last 20 years in Ohio and Michigan.