INDIANAPOLIS — Many of our nation’s military members finish their service, and instead of feeling heartfelt gratitude from family and friends or getting a home-cooked meal, they have nowhere to go.
Nearly 600 veterans and their families are living on the streets in Indiana, but a local organization is on a mission to make sure those Hoosier heroes without a home don’t lose their hope.
When Kyla Randall’s peers were worried about finding a dress for homecoming or getting into their dream college, she was taking on stressful situations many adults struggle to handle.
She got her GED at 16 years old so she could be home to care for her ailing dad. In the brief moments she got to herself, she worked on her community college coursework.
Two years later at 18, the nursing program she’d been working toward had a waitlist. She added her name and weighed her options.
“I had been taking care of him for a few years at that point and I felt like I needed to do something for myself. And I felt like I should do something in the meantime if I wasn’t going to get into the program,” Kyla said.
“I had been paying for college with my dad’s disability benefits which were going to run out when I was 18 as well, so I felt like the military would provide me with some other opportunities and access to education. And it was kind of an escape as well. I think it is for a lot of veterans.”
Kyla left home; while in training for the National Guard, she got word her dad died.
“That was really hard for me because I felt like had I been there, maybe I could’ve prevented it or helped in some way. So I carried a lot of guilt and anger for a long time because of that,” she said.
That’s when Kyla’s life changed.
“At that time, it was whatever I could do to numb the pain and escape.”
And that chase to numb the pain would continue for the next ten years. Five of those years were while serving in the National Guard, and Kyla said drinking was a way of life for many of her fellow servicemembers.
“Because of the culture, alcohol abuse wasn’t brought up a lot,” she said. “Some people had concerns, but no one knew the extent of my addiction.”
“Ultimately I was stuck in survival mode after my dad died and that led to the pattern of poor decision-making,” said Kyla. “Drinking excessively led to toxic relationships and drug use. Once I decided to be intentional about my choices and what I wanted for myself and my future is when things started to change in my life.”
“I had to really look in the mirror and go, ‘Wow. You’re an addict.'”
Looking at her children gave her all the reason she needed to get on the right path.
“I needed to be healthy and happy and sober to be my best version for them.”
It was while at a shelter with her two children two years ago in central Indiana that a worker realized Kyla was a veteran and told her about Housing Veterans and Families of Indiana, or HVAF.
There she got connected with a case manager and is now free from a decade of substance abuse, guilt and anger.
Anne Knapke has spent years doing work like case management, and she said it’s not uncommon for her work to keep her up at night as she tries to give veterans the civilian life they deserve.
“Their self-esteem just takes a beating and that’s why we as case managers and support people, we’re here for you. [The problem is] not you. Many times there are just so many different factors that we don’t have control over.”
From the start, Anne was impressed with Kyla’s willingness to tackle challenges in her recovery journey head-on. And her patience.
Kyla says she had to accept that it took her years to get into the hole she was in and it would take years to get out of it.
“That’s where grace and forgiveness come into play. My message to other female veterans would be to let your voice be heard and be bold.”
In a year’s time working with Anne, Kyla and her family got a rental home. She’s about to start a second job to pay off more debt and start saving for a down payment for a house. Her kids just made the honor roll and she’s so proud of them.
Anne is proud, too.
“Kyla is an amazing woman and we had an immediate connection,” said Anne. “She’s one that just exudes warmth and positive energy and goodness.”
“I love Anne,” said Kyla. “She’s my angel. It’s divine alignment we met.”
Kyla says she intends to help people, perhaps with a wellness center, because her heart of service from her late teens hasn’t changed.
HVAF hosts 120 veterans in temporary housing each night.
For more on how HVAF can help, click here. You can also find information on a free pantry that provides toiletries, food and gently-used clothing to all veterans twice a week.