Marine Corps Veteran says Chattanooga Homeless Veteran Initiative gave him a new start

Army and Marine Corps veteran Russell Slonaker received housing through Chattanooga's Homeless Veterans Initiative.

Since early 2014, two hundred fifty-nine formerly homeless veterans have been housed in the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"It just really humbles you," Russell Slonaker said.

Mr. Slonaker served in the Army and in the Marine Corps. A few years ago he was in Colorado without a place to live. He found himself waiting in line to get inside a shelter for a warm meal and clean bed. "You are just standing there wanting for a place to sleep, and people are throwing cigarettes at you. People are yelling at you, and doing all kinds of nasty things. You're just trying to, you know, just kind of make it," Slonaker said.

In February of this year, three federal agencies declared that the city of Chattanooga had effectively ended veteran homelessness.

The phrase 'effectively ending veteran homelessness' does not mean that there are no homeless veterans in the city. What it does mean is that the number is small enough that the city and their partner organizations can find housing for those people within ninety days.

A lot of people worked on this effort including fourteen local, regional, and federal government organizations as well as many volunteers. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke hired a full time homeless veteran coordinator, and later added part time positions. There was also a task force of dozens of citizens of Chattanooga.

Mr. Slonaker now lives in a duplex in the northeast part of the city. His apartment has hardwood floors, an orange couch that was donated through the homeless veterans initiative, and a worn office chair that his brother in law gave him.

On one leg there's a tattoo that reads U.S.M.C. at the top, and Silent Drill Team at the bottom. In the middle there's a Marine Corps Emblem and cross rifles.

On his other leg there are the scars from the injury that Mr. Slonaker says started all of his problems.

"The tibia came out through here, and the fibia came out through here," Mr. Slonaker said.

He says he lost his job and then fell out of a tree on the same day. He broke his leg in several places.

"There's more metal in here than not, and that's basically how I became to be in the mayor's program," Mr. Slonaker said.

Mr. Slonaker has been battling anxiety, high blood pressure, and other issues since his Marine Corps career ended.

He said he had a string of manual labor jobs with a lot of heavy lifting after his injury and he hurt his other knee and couldn't work. He was living in a shelter for veterans in Colorado. He moved to Chattanooga to be with family, but later learned about the homeless veterans program and took advantage of it.

A spokesperson from Mayor Berke's office tells us as of this week they know of thirty-seven homeless veterans still living in the city. Fourteen of those have housing vouchers in hand and are looking for a place to live. The mayor's office expects at least three of them to have a home in the next two weeks.

When the city gets a veteran on their list they work to house them within thirty days. The mayor's office says many times after a homeless veteran is identified it takes them time to go through the process of receiving the assistance.

"I don't feel like I've deserved this more than anybody else," Mr. Slonaker said. "You're either called to serve or you're not. It doesn't make you different or worse or anything else."

If you know about a homeless veteran in the city of Chattanooga contact the mayor's office.

" that's a whole lot of families whose lives are changed," Andy Berke said in February.

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