Michael Kelly shared a little hope on Thursday morning for Central Louisiana's homeless population.
Kelly was one of two former homeless veterans to speak during Thursday's seventh annual Homeless Stand Down at the Bolton Avenue Community Center in Alexandria. The event was hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Pineville, the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition and the city of Alexandria.
He recalled the road that led him to becoming homeless and the redemptive path he's been on over the past few years.
Kelly said he had struggled with drug abuse for more than 40 years before finally deciding to clean up his life. He had been through three divorces, had been rejected by his family, had no friends and said he looked like he was battling AIDS, weighing only 143 pounds.
"I felt like I was dead," Kelly said. "I had no more life, had no more fight and thought that I was gone."
That's when Kelly found help at the VA's chemical dependency outpatient program and turned his life around. He told homeless veterans that the VA hospital can help and that there are other services throughout Cenla to help the homeless community.
"Today I'm here to offer those of you who suffer from addiction and homelessness some hope," Kelly said.
Now 58, Kelly said he's been working at the VA Medical Center for nearly two years, has enrolled in college, remarried one of his former wives and has 22 grandchildren who only see a bright future, not a past littered with turmoil.
"I flat refuse to ever let them look at me tired and worn out from being in the streets and headed in the wrong direction," Kelly said.
Kelly's message went out to approximately 200 members of the homeless population and volunteers on hand to work the event.
Thursday's Stand Down gave the local homeless community access to a number of needed services. They were given a hot meal, the chance to pick out clothes, get a shave and a haircut, and see all of the services available to them in the community.
More importantly, Tammie Arnold, the chief of public affairs for the VA Medical Center and the emcee of the event, said, like the military operations from which the Stand Down took its name.
Thursday's event gave the homeless community the chance to "rest and relax."
Gracie Specks, who took over as the director of the VA Medical Center in Pineville in July and participated in her first Stand Down on Thursday, said it is estimated there are more than 3.5 million homeless people throughout the nation, and it's unknown precisely how many there are locally.
Gauthier said her organization counted approximately 200 homeless on the streets and in shelters in January.
The fight against homelessness, Specks said, can be impacted every day if members of the local community will come together.
"Working together we -- all of us -- can bring an end to homelessness in our community," Specks said.