“So far, I’ve not had to live under a bridge or anything terrible like that, or out in the country out in the fields somewhere. And so my advice would be if you’ve got a great job, if you’re making steady income, no matter how bad it seems, stick with it, because it can get a whole lot worse.”

Tom Light, raised in Greene County, Tennessee:

“I was born and raised in Greene County, Tennessee on a one-hundred and sixty-acre farm. I lived there and farmed until 1984, when I joined the Navy. My mom and dad, they’re still alive. They sold the farm when I was in the Navy, so they live down at Fall Branch, and they’re in their late eighties.

My first ship was an aircraft carrier, and I worked on the flight deck. Every day was an interesting story up there. It’s so dangerous crawling under aircraft while they’re actually turning. But the greatest experience of my life was when I was in the Navy, on the second ship. I went to weather school in the Navy, and I did weather on the USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf.

After we were done with our tour, we had liberty. Our port call was in Mombasa, Kenya. You know, Africa, and I’d always wanted to be out, I’m a big nature guy. I love nature. I remember watching Marlin Perkins, Wild Kingdom, when I was a kid. The Navy offered a two-day air safari, and they were going to pay for most of it, and so I went. We flew out in the middle of the Serengeti, the plains, and camped out that night in Africa, right in the middle of nowhere.

I was out there for two days, and we went on safari, not hunting safari, but with a camera. A photo safari, and it was just a blast. It was the rainy season, and where we were supposed to camp at, the landing strip was underwater. This was a little ten, twelve seat Piper, and our landing strip was underwater.  We had to land forty miles from our camp, and the first pass we made we had to get a herd of water buffalo off the landing strip before we could land.

We had a forty-mile Land Rover journey across Africa. It was unbelievable. It was just the greatest experience I’ve ever had. Like I said, it was the rainy season and the mud, and the roads, we almost got stuck several different times, and we were doing forty or fifty miles when we hit those ruts. It was just a great, great experience.

My ship received an Expeditionary Medal in 1987 for our Persian Gulf tour for what we did over there. We were just at sea, but still you know we supported a lot of the operations, ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) and various things.

I got out of the Navy in April of ’88, although I stayed in the reserves until ’92. After that, I went back to college, and I graduated from Florida State in 1993 with a degree in meteorology. After I got my degree, in 1993, I was hired by the Federal Government and the National Weather Service. I had that job until 2001. I got fired from that because I basically couldn’t handle adversity when it came my way. I got transferred to Jackson, Kentucky, and I hated it because I just had a brand-new home in Florida that was just a thousand times better then living in Jackson, Kentucky in that old apartment, my circumstances since then.

So, you know I screwed that up myself. The system didn’t really fail me.

I’ve been homeless twice. The first time I ended up homeless, I got involved in the stock market in 2008, before then actually, and I lost everything. I ended up at the VA, at the Dom (Domiciliary Care Program) from November 2009 until December 2010. That turned out to be a fairly good experience, to be honest about it. To start off, you’re terrible. You’re homeless you know, all this and that and the other. But I ended up working for the VA, the CWT Program (Compensated Work Program). I’d even saved some money, and when I got out of there I had six thousand dollars that I’d made while I worked there so when I got out I was able to get an apartment, and try to start back to school at ETSU.

This second time, I’m homeless now here at the Salvation Army. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in 2014 from ETSU in Computer Science, and since then I’ve not been able to get work. I think the system has kind of failed me in that regard. I’m not even sure why. I’m a vet, and I’m supposed to get all these vet preferences, you know to be hired, and I meet the minimum requirements, but there’s always someone who’s more qualified than me. My position has always been, if I’ve got the same requirements, the same qualifications as one guy, as this guy, and I’m a vet and he’s not, I should get the job. That’s just the way I see it. In fact, let’s say I’ve got a Bachelors’ Degree, and this guy’s got a Masters’ Degree, I’m a vet and he’s not, I think being a vet trumps the education, but that’s not the way the system is working right now. I think there’s a lot of lip service to giving vets jobs, but I don’t think there’s a lot of action, to be honest about it.

I’m working for A-1 right now, a temporary service over here in Meadowview, and trying to get enough money to fix my truck. I’ve had several interviews in the past few weeks with the Department of Defense, working for them, and I’ve got another one scheduled. If I can’t get that, if I can’t get work in my field, I’d like to get my truck fixed and start my own business where I just basically just do computer repair, and drive to people’s homes for fifty bucks, fix their computers and install software…whatever.

I never did go on the street. I always had somebody to stay with, in the interval while I was still looking for work. I was able to get in the Dom or get in here. So far, I’ve not had to live under a bridge or anything terrible like that, or out in the country out in the fields somewhere.

And so my advice would be if you’ve got a great job, if you’re making steady income, no matter how bad it seems, stick with it, because it can get a whole lot worse.”