Posted on 08 October 2014.
If it seems like Elroy Roberson knows what he’s doing as a VA homeless veteran outreach counselor, it’s no accident.
The former Navy veteran, who began working at the Wise County Veterans Service Office Tuesday, has built a career helping homeless and mentally disabled veterans. He’s worked with the Salvation Army and the VA, and pastors a church in Fort Worth, where he says his desire is to see everyone healed.
HELPING THE HOMELESS – Elroy Roberson just joined the Wise County Veterans Service Office as a homeless veterans counselor. He works with the VA and Wise County to offer housing solutions to veterans in need. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
He also knows first-hand what it’s like to be a veteran experiencing homelessness.
Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Roberson moved to the metroplex to attend Bishop College in Dallas. He then spent 20 years as an aircraft handler for the Navy, and decided to move back to the DFW area after he was discharged.
“After getting out of the Navy, I was promised a job in Texas, so I left everything I had in New York and moved,” Roberson said. “When I got here, I found out I didn’t have the job, and then, for about eight months I experienced homelessness.
“That was when I realized that this could happen to anyone.”
With tears in his eyes, Roberson recalled his experiences during those months after he left the Navy in 1994.
“It was a struggle. I slept in my car a lot. Lots of times, people don’t know what it’s really like, and that’s why I’m so passionate about this issue,” Roberson said. “It’s not always that the person’s on drugs, or has mental health issues, but there is depression.
“I would get these wild thoughts when I thought I couldn’t make it. All it takes is one person to step in and help to change someone’s life for the better.”
Roberson eventually got a job working at a mental health hospital in Lancaster while also working part-time at the Salvation Army. After that, he said, his life turned around. He’s been at the VA since January, and pastors the Spirit and Truth Fellowship Christian Center – a church he started in Fort Worth.
He’s working on an MBA at DeVry University so he can become an administrator in the VA. Now, he wants to be that “one person” to help Wise County veterans get their lives back on track, by any means necessary.
“If that means putting people in my car and driving people to the outpatient clinic in Fort Worth, then so be it,” Roberson said.
The VA currently allots $300 million in grants for programs to help the country’s nearly 50,000 homeless veterans. Texas has one of the highest populations of veterans in the U.S. – more than 1.5 million – and a certain percentage of those are on the street.
According to a recent CBS DFW report, at least 2,500 homeless veterans live in North Texas. The VA hopes to end veteran homelessness in America by next year.
Roberson said many homeless veterans from areas like Wise County don’t want to live in Dallas or Fort Worth. That means much of the local center’s efforts center on shuttling people to VA hospitals.
The VA also partners with Catholic Charities Fort Worth for CCFW’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which helps find housing for low-income veterans and their families who are at risk of becoming homeless.
The program Roberson is most excited about is the upcoming Stand Down fundraising event, a four-day affair where different organizations can donate clothing, blankets and coats, and offer haircuts, showers and checkups for veterans. There is no date set for the event yet, but Roberson said other cities had great success with it in the past.
Wise County veteran service officer Laura Spain said Roberson’s hiring is a good thing for the county.
“We’re excited he’s here,” Spain said. “If you ask anyone, someone’s got a friend of a friend or someone who knows someone who’s homeless. And we’re trying to help those people.”
As for Roberson, he just wants to touch the lives of the veterans he meets.
“This job is really a blessing to me, to be able to tell people that hey, I’ve been where you’ve been. It can happen to anyone,” Roberson said.
Roberson will be working at the Wise County Veterans Service Office every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.