After finding herself in and out of homelessness for three years and receiving very little help, petty naval officer 3rd class, Ashley Esposito was at the end of her ropes when she met her “guardian angel” Seth Eisenberg.
Eisenberg is the president and founder of Operation Sacred Trust, a non profit organization that helps veterans like Ashley transition out of homelessness. Esposito is now pursuing a business degree at Florida International University, while working to help single parent veterans transition successfully into civilian life.
Eisenber and Esposito joined Sundial to talk about how veteran homelessness should be addressed, and what a large organization like Veterans Affairs is doing to work with homeless veterans. He says smaller community driven organizations like his are key to giving each veteran the proper attention.
Life seemed promising, you were starting a new family, but things started to unravel. You eventually ended up homeless. You were also dealing with a lot of physical pain and injuries from your military service.
Esposito: Yes, I could not become a chef- I started doing my cheffing, that’s what I call it, but then my back started killing me. And I was like ‘what’s going on?’ I went to the doctor and I found out at 26 that I had arthritis in my back.
So, the military gives you very basic preparation, and you go through this TAPS program, which is the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. And here you find yourself in this situation, you’re homeless, where did you go? Who did you go to?
Esposito: I went to the VA. I was like ‘I need help’. They gave me a sheet of paper of like fifty numbers to call. I’m going through this, and I also have mental health issues that I’m trying to work with. I’m going there trying to get help, and me and my kids are homeless and you want me to call fifty people.
Seth let me bring you in. You hear this story a lot.
Eisenberg: I do.
I mean first of all when someone like Ashley comes in and starts telling you her story, what do you say?
Eisenberg: I say thank you god for bringing Ashley in. I think of the twenty plus veterans every single day who never make it in because they take their lives before they reach out for help.
We hear Ashley tell us about her experience with the VA. Your experience. I wanted to get a sense of where’s the VA doing a good job and where they’re consistently challenged with problems.
Eisenberg: What Ashley needed when she reached out was a team of people to be there for her. She was always ready to do her part, but she needed people that had the time, energy, and resources. What the VA does, and it’s part of how Operation Sacred Trust came to be, is when the VA really looked at what was behind homelessness, and how come the numbers were continuing to go up despite enormous investments within the VA, is they realized every veteran needed an individual attention. So the VA started to fund public-private partnerships. And they allowed organizations like Operation Sacred Trust to reach out and say here’s what we would do.
So Seth, tell us real quickly how does the Sacred Trust help someone like Ashley to make that transition into housing and into work and so forth.
Eisenberg: So the moment Ashley comes into Sacred Trust, or any of thousands of other Ashleys that we’re honored and privileged to serve, the first conversation is what do you want for the future of your life? So if you need legal support, we’ve got attorneys from the University of Miami who will give you legal support. If you need help with a security deposit to move into housing, we have funds to provide security deposits. If you need a counselor to help you find the right neighborhood, where you wanna live, where you wanna work, we can do that. If you need job training, we can do that. What Ashley and others need when they reach out is a whole team of people to get to work for them. And when you think about it, it takes expertise to understand what resources are available in a community. And when someone’s going through crisis or trauma, just saying call this number or go to this address, that’s usually not the answer.