Volunteers of America Helping Veterans Turn Life Around

More than a thousand veterans sleep on San Diego streets every night.

A program in San Diego's East County is helping veterans who have been on the streets get back on their feet.

At the Volunteers of America Southwest Hawley Center, veterans can stay for up to two years in a transitional program. 

Mike Wilson, one of the veterans in the program, served in the Navy and the Army. He said that while in the Army, he became severely depressed. 

“I attempted suicide in the Army, that's how I was discharged. But I was honorably discharged,” Wilson said.

He said he spent time on the streets and turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with his depression. When he found about the Hawley Center, Wilson said he decided it was time to make a change.

“I needed somewhere where to go I could be a man. Where I could find myself,” he said.

The Hawley Center has case managers that connect veterans to counseling, drug and alcohol programs, legal help, classes, and jobs. The center also has a computer room, laundry room, a weight room, and a television room to relax. Outside there is a garden, a volleyball court and basketball court and a lawn.

Eric Campbell, the Director of Mental Health at Volunteers of America Southwest, said the individual plans developed for each veteran are the keys to the success of the program.

“You can hand them a house. You can hand him a job but if they are mentally not ready, they will just fall right back into what was depression," Campbell said.

“It's part of our mission to turn around peoples’ lives,” said Brad Bianchi, from Mission Advancement and Communications, Volunteers of America Southwest.

After seven months, Wilson said he is ready to pursue a career in culinary arts.

He has already earned degrees from culinary school and volunteered for the non-profit Mama’s Kitchen.  

“Spiritually, I'm like I'm like so grateful and I'm so happy and I'm so glad, so excited. I'm optimistic for the future,” he said.

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