Empowering veterans by explaining expungement

U.S. Army veteran Sam M. desperately wanted to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He did, but immediately following the viewing he was escorted back to his jail cell. He was scared and alone. In 1996, Sam had been convicted of a drug charge and sentenced to jail.

“I was devastated and it was that moment that I knew I had to change my life around,” adds Sam.

But Sam’s struggles mounted once he got home. Without a job, he faced homelessness. He heard about HVAF and called for help. Many veterans come to HVAF looking for a fresh start and those who enter the transitional housing program are not only provided a roof over their head but also have the opportunity to receive free legal services offered by the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.

Sam at HVAF
Sam had one felony drug conviction and three misdemeanor convictions on his record. These convictions were twenty years ago, but they still were impacting his ability to get a job now.

"The legal significance of this is that an Indiana employer cannot use an expunged arrest or conviction as the basis of adverse employment decisions (e.g. refusal to interview, offer job, hire). The expungement law gives a second chance to a person who has been a law-abiding citizen for a long time since they got into trouble." says Brian Dunkel, Director of Legal Services, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.

Each month, there are anywhere from 20 to 30 veterans seeking legal services at HVAF, which is voluntary. Veterans, like Sam, meet with an attorney who go through their criminal records to determine whether they can be expunged by filing a petition in court.

In Sam’s case, the National Veteran Services Fund assisted by paying $536 in unpaid court costs and fines. The law requires a petitioner to make sure all of those are paid before an expungement is granted. The Court has granted Sam’s expungement petition and he can now search for work knowing that his past convictions cannot be used against him by a prospective employer.

“It gave me a peace of mind because I was wondering what was going to happen next and now I have a fresh start,” adds Sam. “I can apply for a job confidently knowing that I can leave my past behind but also remember the bad choices that got me here so that I don’t repeat them,” says Sam. “HVAF and its partners have made a lasting impact on my life.”

Sam meets weekly with a case manager at HVAF and feels a sense of gratitude for the attorney who helped him forge a new path. His immediate goals include finding a meaningful job and to move into his own apartment.

Last year 199 veterans at HVAF received legal services which included getting a criminal record expunged.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) the U.S. Army accounted for 46% of veterans living in the United States yet 56% of veterans in state prison.

Software provider volunteers at HVAF

First time volunteers Lindsey McLelland and five others from Blackbaud, a supplier of software and services, volunteered at HVAF in December. The group sorted and stocked donations in HVAF’s clothing pantry. Lindsey was introduced to HVAF through a co-worker and then researched volunteer opportunities at

“We were looking for an organization that uses our eTapestry product because we were training a class of new eTap customer support analysts,” said Lindsey McLelland, Employee Success Trainer for eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge.

HVAF relies on its volunteers for help organizing the food, hygiene and clothing pantries. Each month roughly 10-15 volunteer groups roll up their sleeves and give back to HVAF.

Blackbaud volunteers at HVAF

Homeless veteran serves as mentor

After serving in the Navy stateside for four years, starting a family and having a lengthy career in medicine, Jim. W., 56, found himself homeless and struggling with drugs and substance abuse.

“My wife had gotten sick and we went through some rocky times together,” Jim said. “Once our marriage ended, I just didn’t care much or try hard to find work.”

Jim’s divorce and drug use pushed him further into depression. He lost his job and apartment. He slept wherever he could. During the winter of 2012, Jim set up camp under a bridge and in abandoned trailers. He was homeless for two years.

“I was losing myself and I didn’t have a care in the world,” he said.

Jim stayed with friends and roamed Indianapolis until he heard about HVAF’s housing program in 2014. He met with a case manager and moved into transitional housing.

“It just changed my whole life,” Jim said. “I’m indebted to the organization that gave me a second chance. They have given me a safe, clean environment meant to focus on getting and staying clean
I have been clean for over two years now.”

Jim serves as a mentor for other veterans in his house.

“Jim has been an outstanding client in HVAF’s transitional housing program,” says Claire Halluska, MSW, LSW Warman Site Social Worker. “He has maintained sobriety and recovery for the past two years. He actively volunteers his time with HVAF by serving as the House Manager. Not only does he help his fellow veterans in his house but he also helps other homeless throughout Indianapolis,” adds Claire.

Jim doesn’t take his responsibility as House Manager lightly. He enforces rules and makes sure the nine veterans he shares space with stays on top of cleaning and chores.

“It has given me some self-respect again, it has given me structure and an overall feeling of self-worth,” says Jim.

Community event aims to help homeless veterans

Iraq war veteran Chistylee Vickers followed in both parents’ footsteps to serve in the Army but noticed the growing struggles female veterans faced once at home. Chistylee, Commander of the Indianapolis American Legion Women's Post 438, organized a "Grab & Go" event at HVAF on December 23 where more than 60 veterans were provided water, food, essential hygiene items and clothing.

"I use everything that happened when I was in the Army. And every bad day I channel that into making a difference," Vickers said. "I advocate for veterans' issues."

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) women currently make up 8% of the total veteran population and 14.6% of the active duty military, increasing to an estimated 16% by 2035.

Vickers, who enlisted in the Army in 2002, served in Iraq as a light-wheel vehicle mechanic. It was the hardest thing she's ever done, she says. She describes her time with her unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky as a "battle" and her command "toxic." She completed her service in 2007 and eventually moved back to her hometown of Shirley with her husband and two children.

Chistylee is one of more than 35,000 women veterans living in Indiana, and women make up the fastest growing segment of the veteran population.

“The experience that I wanted to recreate with the “Grab & Go” event was to provide for the veterans of HVAF through care packages,” says Christylee. “When I was deployed it was the mail and the care packages that kept my moral up the most. Knowing that someone cared and understood how small comforts can raise your mood and self-esteem. The small things that I couldn’t get, became some of the first things I missed and cherished when I received them.”

She is playing a part in ending homelessness.

“Knowing that you’re not forgotten, and there are those who are still grateful for the oath they made years before makes a big difference,” adds Christylee. “Small things that can make a big difference.”

How a Vietnam veteran fought his way out of homelessness and found his purpose

Dewayne's soft, thoughtful eyes show the hard struggles he has gone through but he has found his way of of homelessness.
Born in Indianapolis, Dewayne, who is now in his early 60's, moved in with friends while he got back on his feet. For years, Dewayne struggled with intermittent homelessness. In 1973, Dewayne completed high school and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served during the time of the Vietnam Conflict.

“I come from a long line of family who served in the military but no one served in the Marines and I was interested in protecting our country,” he said. “My Mother initiated a meeting with a recruiter. After the meeting I packed my bags and left 30 days thereafter. My life changed that quickly.”

Dewayne completed basic training in South Carolina, served at the Marines Corps Supply Center in Georgia and then traveled overseas which was his first time leaving his native home of Indiana. After serving in the military, Dewayne enrolled in college in Indianapolis but says he became involved in drugs which played a part in his homelessness.

How many homeless veterans are there?

Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 47,725 veterans are homeless on any given night.

Dewayne says his life had not always been a series of bad choices.

“Depression played a large part in my struggles,” says Dewayne.

In January 2015, he came to HVAF for help and was introduced to Case Manager Mark Lykins and learned about services and programs offered to veterans. With assistance from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program he received assistance with rent and food.

Dewayne at HVAF
Dewayne also found a place where he could check email, build his resume and apply for jobs. He joined a local gym where he could shower and use laundry facilities. He used skills developed in the Marines to persevere.

Looking back on his days living on the streets Dewayne recalls, “It’s horrible. You disconnect from everything. You think about where you may get your next meal. You stay busy.”  But, over the months HVAF has become a foundation for Dewayne as he and staff members worked together to change the trajectory of his life.  Dewayne credits his case manager at HVAF who helped him along the way.

He is currently employed and is working as a floor care technician for the VA. He has also reconnected with family and loved ones. He pays his success forward to the homeless veteran community he was once a part of. He has moved into a duplex in the Maple Fall Creek area.


HVAF in the news

HVAF on WISH-TV... HVAF is helping homeless veterans get housing and critical services but is also keeping veterans warm during the cold winter months.

“When it’s this cold we’re seeing so many more veterans come in,” said Debra Des Vignes, the VP of Marketing for HVAF. “They’re needing winter gloves, hygiene items, and they’re needing anything that can help them keep warm.”

Somerville started going to HVAF after he got sick with blood clots, and had to leave his job.
“They paid six months of my rent, my utilities until I was able to get back on my feet to work,” said Somerville.

Now Somerville is a baker at the new downtown Marsh.

“Doing what I did 30 years ago in the military,” he said.

He still goes to HVAF when he needs to. Every Tuesday and Thursday they hold outreach hours.
At their downtown location veterans can get services, hygiene products and food.
“Our services are critical; they’re life changing. the veterans come in, they have no where to go, they would otherwise be out on the streets,” said Des Vignes.

For people like Somerville, it’s also piece of mind.

“Lots of vets out there that are homeless, hungry, don’t have the help,” he said. “Somewhere along the line someone needs help eventually and it was a blessing.”

HVAF holds outreach hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

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