Thursday, August 15, 2013

Silver Star, medal of gallantry, is also a place vets call home

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
August 15, 2013


Homelessness can happen to anyone and it happens too often to American military veterans. Zinta Aistars talks with women veterans who have moved from unstable homelessness to security at the Silver Star Apartments in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Silver Star Apartments (Photo by Erik Holladay)
If there is one thing that those who have experienced homelessness can attest to having in common, it is the sense of being invisible to the rest of the world. According to the Michigan State Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), Michigan has a homeless population of approximately 86,000 people. About three percent of the homeless in Michigan are veterans. Approximately 1,800 homeless people live in Calhoun County, and nearly 360 of them are veterans. 

For some veterans, returning "home" from military service has meant living in the streets. They joined the ranks of the invisible. 

At Silver Star Apartments, an apartment complex located at 44 N. Clark Road in Battle Creek, alongside the Veterans Affairs Hospital, the homeless veterans have become visible again, and along with their visibility, they have found a place that will take them off the streets. They’ve found home. 

"Homelessness is too uncomfortable. People don’t want to see it or think about it. But it can happen to anyone." That’s Michael Carter speaking, and he knows. Carter is a veteran, and for three years of his life, he was homeless--until he came to Silver Star. Once he felt solid ground beneath him again, he saw an opportunity and acted on it. 

"Management here is great, but they needed a liaison between management and the veterans," Carter says. "So I suggested my position here, and now," he smiles and opens the door to a small office just inside the front entrance of the building, "here I am, every day."

Carter is the supportive housing specialist at Silver Star, and that means he does something of everything. Most of all, he listens. And he understands. He’s been there, he’s taken the fall, and he has gotten up again. 

Seated inside his office, however, are four veterans to whom he listens closely, but whose journey he may not entirely understand. They are four women. The bond between Samantha Roeder, Deborah Helbig, Brenda Parrott and Wanda Murrell is immediately apparent. The women sit close, and as they speak, they often reach out to each other. If someone needs a hug, there it is. 

"This is home," Murrell says. "I’m not leaving here until they take me out ten toes up."

They all nod empathetically.

"There’s maybe six or seven women here," Murrell continues. "Out of 75 apartments. We stick together. I don’t trust easy. The last place where I lived, someone tried to come in through the window. Here, I live on the first floor, and I don’t worry."

It wasn’t always that way, she says. When Silver Star first opened in 2009, the complex had a bad reputation. "Drugs, alcohol, prostitution." Murrell shrugs. But that all changed, and the women give great credit to Mike Carter, the man in the middle who understands and listens. 

Murrell served as a finance specialist in the Army. She cites the list of her troubles since her service like a laundry list of stains that won’t come clean: a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a brutal rape, divorce and a broken family, an addiction to crack cocaine, rehabilitation dotted with relapses, and a pattern of homelessness. 

She dangles a long key chain of colorful icons she’s earned for staying clean. By the time her journey brought her to Silver Star, the complex had ...


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