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Finding kinship with fellow veterans during the pandemic

Army Veteran Kyle writes his first-person account about the friendships he formed during his time living in a hotel with fellow veterans over the summer of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  |  December 18, 2020

Kyle Jackson, an Army veteran, was housed in a quarantine and isolation hotel in Detroit, provided by Volunteers of America Michigan, for several months during the COVID-19 pandemic. During his time there, he made some deep connections with fellow veterans who had, like him, experienced homelessness and were brought together during the pandemic. 

Read more here about his experience with Volunteers of America Michigan and ultimately finding permanent housing through their support.

From mid-April to early July 2020 — during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — I lived at the Rivertown Inn and Suites. During my stay there, I was in touch with my VOA caseworker in the search for permanent housing, while also quickly forging bonds with other veterans that I was lodged with at the hotel.

Kyle Jackson
Army veteran Kyle Jackson

From Harold, a 70-something Vietnam-era veteran whom I would sometimes take for drives in my Mini Cooper convertible, to Jerome and Darick, two other veterans that I would spend time with, I found myself relating to each one of the men. 

Before I knew it, I felt like I wasn’t just making new friends, but I was also doing good deeds myself — helping not just fellow veterans, but my fellow man. We were all helping each other out, like a village should, I guess.

Kyle Jackson

Harold and I would sit on the front porch of the hotel, smoke cigarettes, and talk about our times in service or current events around the world. Jerome and I would take walks to the Detroit Riverwalk and discuss music, and he would tell me old stories of his childhood growing up in Detroit. He would recount his own tales of being homeless before, having slept on some of the benches we would pass at the Riverwalk. 

Darick had gained access to a barbecue grill, which he would keep at the edge of the parking lot of the hotel, and on many nights, he would grill up food like sausages or burgers. He would spend about four hours slow-cooking the meats and telling madcap tales of his time in the Navy, recounting stories of yesteryear before he ended up homeless and under the care of VOA. While his stories, oddball humor, and jokes would sometimes wear on me, his grilling abilities and good-natured spirit kept me always checking on him to make sure he was okay.

It wasn’t long before that Darick explained why he’d been wearing the same clothes since the time I’d first met him — he had only one pair of underwear in his possession, and he’d been washing them by hand on a nearly weekly basis. I reached out to one of the VOA caseworkers named Kathy to tell her of Darick’s need for clean, fresh underwear. Kathy came to the hotel within the week to deliver more than two dozen packages of new underwear for Darick and any other veteran who would need it. 

I also found out Darick needed assistance with his veterans’ disability benefits paperwork, and he asked me to help him prepare and fill out the documents.

Before I knew it, I felt like I wasn’t just making new friends, but I was also doing good deeds myself — helping not just fellow veterans, but my fellow man. We were all helping each other out, like a village should, I guess.

With the help of VOA and my caseworker, I luckily identified an apartment to live in, and quickly transitioned out of the program and into permanent housing. The end of my stay was bittersweet. While I was happy to be transitioning into my home with the help of VOA, my time with like-minded veterans like myself was coming to an end.

In a time when all Americans are told to be cautious and somewhat distant from one another, I found true humanity in other veterans like me, all of us coping with some type of loss.

Kyle Jackson

I was especially sad to be bidding farewell to one particular veteran I became acquainted with — an older man I knew only by his last name, McQueen. We bonded over food. There would be times where he didn’t have a meal for the day, and I would often give him some of my extras from fast food restaurants, just to make sure he didn’t go without. 

McQueen and I truly bonded when he confided in me teary-eyed that his eldest son, Brandon, had passed away due to cancer. Having lost my father, a Vietnam veteran, to cancer, I cried with McQueen, and even though it was during the pandemic, I didn’t care and hugged McQueen, praying for the soul of his departed child.

In a time when all Americans are told to be cautious and somewhat distant from one another, I found true humanity in other veterans like me, all of us coping with some type of loss.

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