Becoming Model Citizens 

Veteran stages play to raise money for housing the homeless.

After serving with the U.S. military in the Grenada conflict, Richard Haney moved home to Chicago. But like many before him, he turned to drugs to ease his post-war trauma and eventually had trouble keeping a job. In an effort to turn his life around, he moved his wife and five kids to Memphis.

"I thought by changing our geographical location, things would be better," Haney says. "But it didn't work out that way. I ended up with the same problems I was having in Chicago -- using and not keeping a job. Through our habit, we lost our children to the Department of Children's Services [DCS]."

DCS officials told Haney that he had a year to straighten up or he'd never regain custody of his children. After checking himself into the Veterans Administration hospital, he learned of Alpha Omega Veteran's Services, a non-profit organization that specializes in helping veterans. He entered the program along with his wife and after extensive drug treatment and financial counseling, they were able to get their children back.

While Haney was in recovery, he wrote a musical based on his experiences with addiction and treatment. Recovery, a three-act production that follows the course of one man's struggle, will be shown at Crichton College on Friday and Saturday, May 21st and 22nd.

"People always stereotype us as 'once an addict, always an addict,' and we can never get past that," Haney says. "I thought if we allowed the community to come into our world and view things as we do, they might change how they think."

Money raised from ticket and concession sales will help fund construction of Alpha Omega's 32-unit housing complex for homeless veterans. The complex, which will be located on Court Street near the intersection of McNeil in Midtown, will house veterans who have gone through the Alpha Omega program but don't have permanent housing.

Even exemplary veterans have problems staying sober without permanent housing, says Cordell Walker, executive director of Alpha Omega.

"They end up having to recycle back through the program after falling off the wagon because when they got to the point of moving into permanent housing, everyone slammed doors in their faces. They'd only look at how bad of a person they were in the past," Walker says.

In addicton to providing basic food, shelter, and clothing, Alpha Omega offers services for homeless veterans, such as drug treatment, occupational therapy, and counseling. Currently, veterans can choose to stay for 30- or 90-day programs, or they can go into a dependent-living program or semi-permanent housing.

The new complex will be the first permanent housing offered by Alpha Omega, and there is already a list to fill all 32 units. An on-site administration building will house counseling and treatment programs and will allow case workers to monitor residents. Walker says they also plan to offer cultural activities such as summer theater. Most of the actors in Recovery are Alpha Omega clients or graduates of the program.

The estimated cost of the complex is $2.3 million. Although several housing-assistance programs and the City of Memphis are helping, the project needs additional funding.

The need for veteran services is enormous, Walker says. Veterans comprise about 47 percent of the city's homeless population, according to Alpha Omega statistics. Many are veterans of the Vietnam war who felt displaced when they returned home, Walker explains.

Many of those who developed drug habits in the war continued using drugs when they returned home. Like Haney, many lose everything.

"A lot of them end up in places they don't need to be, like mental institutions or jail," says Walker. "Where they need to be is in programs like this. Here, it's all about fellowship and camaraderie, and we're all the same. We're all working through something, and we're all trying to reintegrate into society." n

Recoverywill be shown at Crichton College (255 North Highland) on Friday and Saturday, May 21st and 22nd at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 218-8785 or 726-5066.

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