Former Marine Fights to End Veteran Homelessness in Georgia

This is one of several Solutions Journalism stories published through a Grady capstone course that reported on housing issues during the fall of 2018.

National Demographics for Homeless Veterans
National Demographics for Homeless Veterans chart describing the various demographics involving homeless veterans. (Graphic/Savannah Leigh Richardson)

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is an organization that works with state governments trying to end homelessness among veterans. This organization is one that writes pieces of legislation and policies along with organizing events for veterans.

According to this organization, there are 40,056 homeless veterans in the United States. The nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9 percent being female. Majority of them are single, live in urban areas, and suffer from either mental illness or alcohol and/or substance abuse. About 11 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Twenty-three percent of homeless veterans are between the ages of 31 and 50. One of those people is Austin Bryant. He is a 32-year-old Marine veteran from Jefferson, Georgia. He deployed three times to Afghanistan. Now he suffers from a post-traumatic stress disorder. When he returned from his final deployment and received an honorable discharge from the Marines, Bryant found himself without a home and no family to fall back on for support.

“I’ve dedicated my life to ending veteran homelessness, and it starts in Georgia,” Bryant said.

Bryant found the North Georgia Veterans Homeless Shelter and got accepted into the program. That was two years ago, and now he owns his own landscaping company. However, that isn’t what he wants to do with his life.

“I want to travel and raise money for homeless veterans and help find a way to get them off the streets,” Bryant said. “The shelter helped me find a way out of the slump I was in, and since then, all I want to do is find a way to help out the cause.”

 Why It’s Newsworthy: There is only one veteran homeless shelter outside of Atlanta, and it has 52 beds. Of the Georgia population, 4 percent of the people are homeless veterans and have nowhere to go. These two individuals find ways to end veteran homelessness. 

Bryant travels all over North Georgia talking to churches and other non-profits about ending veteran homelessness and how they can achieve this goal. One thing he continuously brought up was raising funds to build a larger place to house people.

His goal is to end veteran homelessness in Georgia. How does he plan on doing this? With the help of the shelter and spreading the word, along with hosting events until enough people join the cause.

“We did the Run for Veterans 5K with the shelter, and it was a great success. This race is just one of the ways we want to raise awareness,” Bryant said. “The goal is to travel to every single state and help them figure out a way to end homelessness as a whole.”

Pastor Fawn McKnight is the executive director of the shelter and helped start the shelter. There have been more success stories than failures that have come through the doors of the shelter, and McKnight prides that on the counseling they offer and support services they provide.

“With the counseling and other support systems we offer, we’ve noticed more veterans being able to hold jobs and stay on their medicine without any problems,” McKnight said. “But Austin is one that really took to what our counselors and volunteers preached. Now he is helping us out, and it is so nice to see our help now helping others.”

The mission statement for the shelter is, “to be a light, a ray of hope to veterans in need. To provide shelter, food, life and job placement assistance in a clean, safe Christian environment.”

Bryant and McKnight both have a card they carry in their pockets with this statement on it. And both jump at the moment to speak about what the shelter does, including finding ways to expand this project and make it a statewide movement.

“I’ve spoken with Governor-Elect Brian Kemp about how we could end veteran homelessness in the state of Georgia. Kemp promised that veterans would be a priority during his time as governor,” Bryant said. “However, that isn’t good enough for me. I’ve started in North Georgia, but I plan on making my way through the entire state until I have enough signatures to do something about this issue.”

Whether that is raising money to build more shelters or proposing legislation making it law for every military person leaving the military to go through a process of reacquainting themselves with the real world after deployment, veterans will have a voice in this state again.”

For now, donations are the way the shelter makes things happen, and that’ll likely be the way its done until Bryant gets his signatures or laws get passed.

Savannah Leigh Richardson is a senior majoring in journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

 

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