CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Jarome Thompson has been homeless three times since being discharged from the Army in 1983.
A generally quiet man living in Marion, Iowa, Thompson doesn’t say anything that doesn’t need to be said, and doesn’t care to repeat himself unless he’s correcting a statement.
His southern accent quickly shows he’s not a native Iowan. He has strong hands, evident as he makes an ink pen from a panel of wood but also a firm handshake.
He’s 54 now having joined the Army in 1979 when he was 18: “When I thought we was gonna’ go to Iran,” Thompson said. Instead he was sent to Germany for 18 months.
He finished his service working as a reservist in San Diego but immediately had no place to live. He eventually got a job as a trucker and moved to Colorado, then Texas, then back to Colorado before eventually moving to Buffalo, Wyoming, where he lost his job.
From 2001 to 2010, Thompson said, he was homeless and lived primarily out of a home for veterans home in Buffalo.
In 2005 Thompson got another job as trucker, but the work wasn’t steady enough for him to afford a home.
“To make any money you have to be on the road a lot,” Thompson said.
Around 2010 he went to a veterans service facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and was able to take advantage of a housing assistance program in which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs are partners. It is the HUD-Veterans Affairs supportive housing voucher, or the HUD-VASH voucher, for rental assistance to veterans.
Thompson came to Cedar Rapids looking for a trucking job in April 2015. He was unsuccessful but stayed in the area because he didn’t have enough money to return to New Mexico.
For the third time, Thompson was homeless.
For a week he lived in motels or out of his truck before eventually ending up at the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program Operation Home shelter in Cedar Rapids. “I didn’t really need a whole lot of help because I already knew what to do,” Thompson said.
HACAP workers told Thompson it might take a while to get into a home using the HUD-VASH program but he was able to get into an apartment in less than a month.
He still struggled financially because he didn’t have a job. Dusty Noble, HACAP veteran advocate in Cedar Rapids, was able to help get him on Social Security disability for Thompson’s first payment on May 21.
Thompson has completed safety training for using HACAP’s woodworking machines. He works with Noble, making wooden ink pens at Matthew 25 Ministries in Cedar Rapids once a week.
“In the past it’s been lack of jobs,” Thompson said referring to why he’s been homeless. “Now that I have Social Security I don’t have to worry about that.”