Word & Image: Jeff Talley, 51 

Homeless Veteran

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Fifty bucks goes a long way out here. I can make fifty bucks last a month. Life is a little easier out here these days because people are seeing me on the street and they are thinking I might end up like that man one day. Sometimes you get hassled and people yell, “Get a job!” I don't let it bother me because Jesus gives me hope every day. I wake up and say, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the warm blood running through my veins.”

I have been in and out of the psych ward at the [Veterans Affairs] hospital. Finally the doctor told me this isn't a motel, you gotta make a decision. I caught the tail end of Vietnam, April or May 1975. The fall of Saigon. I was on the USS America. We were throwing new helicopters overboard to make room for the evacuation of the embassy people. I grew straight up as a country boy in Chesterfield — fishing, hunting, camping. My daddy still lives there. He is 83 years old and he'd still whip my tail. He's tough. I wouldn't mess with him. He's been such a loving man. You couldn't ask for a better man. I remember when I was little, when he would come home from work and us kids would run across the yard to greet him.

After the Navy, I don't know what went wrong. I was married for 23 years and been divorced for 10. I lived for a while in an abandoned house in Dinwiddie County until it was time to move on. When I came to Richmond for VA treatments I stayed in a ditch near the intersection of Route 1 and Parham. I was there for two and a half years. I weigh 150 or so now [but back then] I was down to 117 and had a beard down to my waist.

One day after a night of drinking I woke up and didn't recognize where I was. That's when I heard the low audible voice. That's God. He said go to the sound. I ended up near St. Joseph's Villa. I found a pay phone and called 911. The operator said help is coming. The cop put me in the front seat of the car. I hadn't had a bath in a month. He took me to Richmond Outreach Center in Midlothian. I had been drinking every day for two and a half years and he saved my life. Now I am a straight-up God-fearing man. I know God is coming. The Bible says like a thief in the night. I just hope he gets here soon.


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