GREENFIELD — A poster on a bulletin board at a laundromat changed Jeff Cook’s life.
The 52-year-old Greenfield veteran had just been released from the Hancock County Jail. Held there for two months on a domestic battery charge that was eventually dismissed, Cook couldn’t go back to live with his former girlfriend. He was homeless.
“I just happened to be at the laundromat and wondering what I was going to do that very evening,” Cook said.
The poster was for The Path Home, a nonprofit agency that helps veterans get back on their feet. Through The Path Home and the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation, Cook found the safety net he needed to land his own place and a job.
Cook served as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force from 1981 to 1986. He was a machinist for 22 years after that, but he lost his job a few years ago when the company closed. He went from job to job over the next few years, wondering how he could make ends meet.
Cook said he got in with the wrong crowd and in a bad living environment. A dispute landed him in jail, and he knew he couldn’t go back to his former life.
The day he was released from jail, he called the number to The Path Home, and the agency put him up in a hotel room that night.
“It was so fast, I couldn’t believe it,” Cook said. “But then I was worried week to week, because each week I didn’t know for sure about the money to stay in the hotel, but it kept coming.”
The Path Home helped him land a janitorial job through Diversco, which cleans at Keihin IPT in Greenfield. The HVAF stepped in to provide the deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment.
Like The Path Home, the HVAF is another nonprofit agency in Indianapolis that assists veterans by providing housing funds and caseworkers to help them get back on track. Tisha Jenkins, the case manager for Hancock County, said the agency will also help him with clothing he needs for his new job.
The HVAF provides a program called Supportive Services for Veteran Families. Coordinator Rachel Brown said the program is made possible through a grant the agency received in 2011.
“The whole goal of this program is to give vets and their families who are facing an eviction, some are near homelessness, to stay in permanent housing,” Brown said. “We can pay rent for up to five months for a vet; that way they can work on getting some income if they don’t already have some.”
Brown said the agency can also help with child care. Veterans can face homelessness because of mental health issues or addictions, she said. Some simply can’t find a job.
The HVAF helped 150 families each year from 2011 to 2013. This year, the agency is doubling its efforts, with a goal of reaching 300 families. Brown said they’re helping more veterans who live in the suburban counties, like Cook.
Bob Workman, veterans affairs director for Hancock County, said he refers homeless veterans to such agencies. He gets two to three calls a month from local veterans who are homeless, Workman said. In addition to nonprofit agencies, veterans can get temporary assistance from township trustees or the American Legion. WorkOne and the Department of Veterans Affairs work with veterans to obtain employment.
“Veterans as a population have a higher percentage of homelessness than any other general population would have,” Workman said. “Some, I’m sure, is from the change from military life to civilian life. They can’t seem to handle it. Or a lot of it is due to post traumatic stress disorder, I think… or they have a disability of some kind where they can’t do things and they turn out homeless.”
Now, Cook says he’s happy to be the poster child for the agencies who helped him. He’s being featured in newsletters of the HVAF to help spread the word of the agency’s program, and he’s working with Path to Home on a roofing project for another veteran in need.
“I lucked out the whole way, and I’ve enjoyed paying them back, helping them out with their organizations,” Cook said. “I ended up with a place to live and a job, and I couldn’t have seen it any other way.”
Veterans who need assistance with housing or employment counseling can call the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation, at (317) 951-0688. The county veterans service officer, Bob Workman, can be reached at (317) 461-8767.