Just a few short years ago, Martin M.’s routine consisted of waking up to his wife and three dogs in his home in Waco, Texas. He would routinely turn on National Public Radio (NPR), brew his coffee, and head outdoors to work on landscaping. He imagined growing old, sitting in a rocking chair in the place he called home.
He never anticipated all of the changes that were to be thrown his way in the few short months to come.
Martin had gained years of experience working as an x-ray technician in the U.S. Army. After he was out, he expanded his professional skills as an ultrasound technician where he has acquired over 15 years of experience.
In the fall of 2011, Martin was offered a position as an ultrasound technician at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson.
“I received a call from someone that I had worked with in the past… He asked if I needed work and I did, so I showed up here,” said Martin.
The job at St. Mary’s Hospital fell through shortly after Martin’s move. It was the first in a series of unfortunate events that would impact Martin’s life.
“Exactly one week later, I got a call from my wife notifying me that she was asking for a divorce,” Martin shared.
Before he had time to comprehend the loss of a job and a marriage, Martin received a letter in the mail stating that his best friend had died from cancer. Blow by blow, Martin absorbed the shocking news.
“Within just three weeks, everything I had come to know as my life was gone…My whole identity had been snatched away,” he said somberly.
Martin recalled living alone in a bare apartment without any friends, family, or income. Depression and uncertainty settled in. “I remember being all alone in this apartment and stewing over everything that had just happened. I was an emotional wreck,” he confided.
With money quickly draining, Martin didn’t know where to turn. At the prompting of his brother, Martin enlisted support from the Veteran’s Administration.
“I was envisioning myself walking up and down the streets without knowing where I was going to go or how I was going to manage this,” he said. Martin had received a notice of eviction from his apartment complex, and without any income, was about to be homeless.
It was by chance that Martin came across a flyer for Comin’ Home, transitional and supported housing for homeless veterans. It was a Monday that he placed the call inquiring about the services, and on that Wednesday, Martin became the newest resident.
The timing worked out that Martin did not have to experience homelessness on the streets or in a shelter. However, for many homeless veterans, months are spent on the streets typically in conjunction with substance abuse, poverty, and— for some— criminal backgrounds.
Many military occupations and training do not transfer into civilian life and place veterans at a disadvantage when looking for work.
“This was all new territory,” said Martin when reflecting on his transition to Comin’ Home.
The facility has housing units available for up to 52 individuals, and on average, most veterans stay for six months to one year. While at Comin’ Home, they receive assistance with medical, behavioral health, education, and job skills resources.
Three months after moving to Comin’ Home, Martin faced a rare health concern with his eyes. Though this was yet another setback, Martin viewed it as an opportunity. “It was time for me to start getting out and to try to move forward.”
Martin was connected with Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired (SAAVI) an organization that offers rehabilitative services for individuals with visual impairments. “I am working to develop skills, gain adaptive resources and options for future work.”
He hopes that with the proper rehabilitative training, and adaptive visual devices, he can find work as an ultrasound technician again.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Martin said. With the right resources and his optimistic outlook, he will soon be back on track. “I am a survivor by nature.”
Martin still brews his coffee every morning as NPR pours in through the speaker in his bedroom. He still tends to his plants; though these ones reside on the window sill of his shared two-bedroom apartment. And he now goes outside every morning to smoke a cigarette with other veterans where they exchange wisdom and war stories before going on with their days.
When asked about the biggest obstacle he faces in the future, Martin admits that it could be age related. “I’m no spring chicken,” said Martin, “But I can do what I can do.” He hopes that at sixty years old, his age doesn’t present a barrier for his goal of working again.
Martin shared a metaphor that he heard on the radio about a violinist preparing to play a live concerto. He said that the violinist was prepared to begin their performance when one of the strings on the instrument broke. Instead of replacing the instrument or the string, the violinist announced he would still make beautiful music with what he had left. “I just thought was profound,” said Martin. He adopts this metaphor into his life – working with what he has left.
Martin says that despite the setbacks he has encountered in his recent past, he is still fortunate.
“This is a place where if you make the effort and seek out the resources that are available, then you can find a way to get back on your feet and move forward in a positive way.”