S.O. Close to Homeless: Part Sixteen

Jacksonville, Ore. — NBC5 News is partnering with Access to start a community discussion, and bring you an in-depth look into the lives of people who are homeless, have been homeless, or who are very close to it. In week 16, we’re meeting Mike Whitfield. Battling a drug and alcohol addiction, he struggled for years on the street, after his time in the U.S. Army. Now nearly a decade sober, he’s helping veterans who are struggling with the same problems.

“I’m very proud of my life today, in a very humble way,” Whitfield said.

With a job, a house, a car, two dogs, and a strong marriage, Whitfield has everything he’s ever wanted. But the process has been anything but easy.

“This is hard to talk about a little bit,” Whitfield said.

The struggle started in his early adult life shortly after joining the Army.

“Very traumatic things happened to me in the military,” Whitfield explained.

After three years on the go, all over the world, Whitfield hit a road bump that changed his entire life.

“I failed a urinalysis test for marijuana,” Whitfield said. ” I was going to the promotion board to be promoted to an E5 and I ended up losing my stripes, so I just got out.”

After leaving the army in 1987, things took a turn for the worse. Whitfield spent the next 12 years getting deeper into drugs and alcohol.

“I was never really homeless until 1999, when I got into drugs pretty bad, and I ended up in trouble with the law because of that,” Whitfield said. “It just spiraled out of control from there.”

From 1999 to 2008, Whitfield sought out help from the White City VA, completing three programs, but still battling addiction. The fourth time, Whitfield says the welcome wasn’t so warm.

“They told me no,” Whitfield said. “They said that you’ve been here, and you were here in ’02, ’04, ’06, and it’s ’08… and they said, you know what to do, because you’ve graduated numerous times, so you need to just figure it out. And it was the best thing that somebody ever told me, was no.”

With nowhere else to go, Whitfield turned to the Medford Gospel Mission. Through newfound faith, Whitfield says he was able to acknowledge his problems, and begin his recovery.

“I filled that void of addiction with the word of God, and my life has never been the same since,” Whitfield said.

With determination and focus, Whitfield was accepted into programs once again with the VA, and the Rogue Valley Veterans and Community Outreach Center — for the first time, applying their lessons to his life.

“I also got to go to college, to be a diesel technician, and so I graduated with honors on the Dean’s List in 2011.”

That same year, he began working at the Rogue Valley Veterans and Community Outreach Center as a case manager, helping people going through the same tough lessons he had just conquered.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to do what I do today,”Whitfield said.

He says each case is different, people come from different places, and have different struggles. But to Whitfield, the solution is always the same.

“It all comes back down to me taking the steps,” Whitfield said. ” I had to be the active role in this journey, so without being the active role in this, it means nothing.”

To learn more about local resources for veterans or anyone struggling with homelessness, click here.

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