Jack Coleman is living proof that homelessness can strike at any time in someone’s life.
Coleman grew up in Los Angeles and joined the Army in 1965 after the Watts riots there that year made it hard for a young African-American man like him to get a job. He spent 27 years in the Army, initially serving in a supply station during the Vietnam War.
In 1981, in his early 30s, he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and watched many of his friends die of AIDS. He would become one of the longest-surviving HIV patients, but the diagnosis was devastating and “changed everything,” he now recalls.
After leaving the service with the rank of master sergeant, he worked for years in retail sales at high-end department stores in New York City. But eventually he was declared disabled because of his HIV status and deemed eligible for federal benefits.
At age 56, he began using crack cocaine with a close friend. He became an addict, he says, after not even being a drinker or smoker his entire life.
Out of money, he walked for 3 ½ days from Atlanta, where he had been living, to Birmingham, Alabama, to enter an in-house drug-rehabilitation program. He spent two years there, under the assistance of the Veterans Affairs Department (VA).
About 10 years ago, he moved to Seattle to be closer to a sister.
Homeless, he contacted The Salvation Army at the VA’s recommendation. He was assigned bed number 84 at The Salvation Army’s William Booth Center in Seattle.
He stayed for several months before moving to an apartment for a time and then to San Francisco and Salt Lake City.
In July, Coleman returned to Seattle, again to be closer to family.
Having never forgotten the kindness of The Salvation Army, Coleman says, he went back to them for help. By happenstance, he was initially assigned to bed 84.