For nine years, Jon-Eric could only dream about skiing as a reminder of his past. Raised in the Pacific Northwest, he spent countless hours of his youth hitting the slopes, fashioning himself into an avid skier. But a near-decade of living outside, homeless and struggling with substance use, derailed his life — nine years that he says “took a toll on me.”
Jon-Eric joined the Air Force after high school. He admits that even while he was serving, he knew the military wasn’t a great fit for him. He stuck it out, serving for three years before being honorably discharged.
After, he traveled around the country to visit friends and family members. Along the way, he experienced unexpected losses and traumas, eventually landing back in the Portland area. He started taking pills to cope with the pains of a failing relationship. Heroin followed pills; methamphetamines followed heroin. He distanced himself from his family.
“It tore me up and I beat myself up over it,” Jon-Eric reflects. “It created a lot of scarring.”
Unlike many veterans who end up living on the street, Jon-Eric had family members who, in spite of his self-destructive efforts, tried to help. His mother, holding both fear and hope for her son, brought him to an open needs assessment and screening that local social service partners perform weekly for veterans. That’s where Kim Pettina, a case manager for Central City Concern’s (CCC) Veterans Grant Per Diem program, met Jon-Eric. Quickly, Kim realized this was actually the second time she’d met him.
“The first time we met was when you were outside the Martha Washington [a CCC affordable housing community],” she recounted to Jon-Eric. Not long before, she had interacted with him briefly while he was deep in his addiction and actively using outside the building.
Many veterans experiencing homelessness suffer from some combination of mental health struggles, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They often have significant barriers to stable housing, including criminal records, histories of eviction and trauma.
Jon-Eric fit the profile of the many veterans Kim has worked with for more than 10 years, most recently as part of CCC’s veterans program. Many veterans experiencing homelessness suffer from some combination of mental health struggles, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They often have significant barriers to stable housing, including criminal records, histories of eviction and trauma.
After nine years of living outside, Jon-Eric was ready for a change. Kim and CCC — which provides housing, case management, employment assistance and peer support for about 100 veterans each year — were ready to walk with him.
Getting Jon-Eric inside was Kim’s first goal. She quickly found him a room in transitional housing, Jon-Eric’s first stable place to live in almost a decade. When he opened the door to his unit for the first time, he felt relief. “Things are going to be alright,” he said to himself. “A little space to breathe for a minute.”
“We set a goal plan for me and so far we’ve been knocking them down, one by one. It’s incredible how fast things have been happening. What a miracle.”
Working together, Kim and Jon-Eric developed a list of goals that paved the road to long-term stability and hope. Taking care of an infection that left his mouth “feeling like it was on fire,” Kim connected him to a dental practice that donated their treatment. Practicing self-advocacy by seeking additional resources like clothing, Jon-Eric started attending local Veterans Stand Down events. Maintaining his newfound recovery, Jon-Eric and his mother began attending meetings together at the local Alano Club.
“We set a goal plan for me and so far we’ve been knocking them down, one by one,” Jon-Eric says proudly. “It’s incredible how fast things have been happening. What a miracle.”
He and Kim haven’t crossed off the next two big goals, permanent housing and permanent employment, quite yet, but they’re getting close. Jon-Eric has been participating in a work experience program through the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs , which they hope will put him in position to find more work soon. On the housing front, Jon-Eric and Kim are both teeming with excitement about what’s next.
“We’re just wrapping up some paperwork to get Jon-Eric his own apartment in a brand new affordable housing building,” Kim shares.
He adds, “I can’t wait to start figuring out what I want to do for my basic routines, like laundry and working out, where I want to go shopping. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Jon-Eric credits Kim and the CCC veterans program with helping him get this far. “Things are hopeful and positive and I’m very grateful to be here right now. It’s so nice to have this supportive community of people I can talk to.”
As for his longer-term goals, Jon-Eric lights up as he mentions his hopes of becoming a ski instructor. “Just to be back on the slopes, taking it easy, teaching people to ski. That to me is the dream.”