White City, 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 22, we’re meeting Brandie Barnes. For years, she was living on the street and selling drugs. Four years later, she’s clean, and a homeowner.
In late August, Barnes attended an annual event honoring women veterans at the White City VA. The message of the event: I am not invisible. From the speakers to the audience, veterans shared experiences where they felt invisible to male service members while on active duty, and even to people back at home.
But Barnes said she’s felt that twice over.
“I immediately felt invisible, everything that I wanted to do in life and everything that I thought was going to happen, just crumbled,” Barnes said.
Barnes said she was sexually assaulted by her Sergeant in the first year after joining the Army in 1991.
“I joined the army right after high school,” Barnes said. “I actually graduated early, and went into the Army.”
When she was honorably discharged after the assault, her life took a downward turn.
“Suffered with my military trauma for 25 years, so, in and out of jail, homelessness, drugs,”Barnes said.
After years, bouncing from house to house, she began living in her car with a single focus.
“It was really all about drugs, and getting more drugs, and selling more drugs, and it was just a crazy way to live,” Barnes said.
She said it was an arrest that changed her entire life.
“I went to jail in March of 2013 for drug charges, and found out when I was in jail, I was a couple weeks pregnant,” Barnes said.
Barnes said she’s been clean ever since that day.
“Something changed when I was in jail, I just, I found God, and he gave me the strength to change everything about myself,” Barnes said.
She got out of custody, and into a couple local programs. It was then that she first realized she was a veteran.
“I didn’t realize that I was a veteran until I was clean and sober,” Barnes said. “When I left the Mom’s house, I went to the Hope House, and one of the first questions they asked me was if I was a veteran, if I’d ever serviced in the service, and I was very ashamed, and said yes, I had served in the service.”
While she was ashamed, it was one of the first times Barnes felt really seen, and not invisible. In turn, the help she received inspired her to help others.
“I would like to be that glimmer of hope, I wanted to show them that there’s light out there, and give them a resources or a community partner phone number, or a blanket or a hot meal, or something that they can rely on and they can know that they deserve better, and they can actually do something to change their situation,” Barnes said.
To learn more about local resources available for those struggling with homelessness, click here.