BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — By some estimates, more than 30,000 veterans in this country are homeless.
One of them is about to move into a home of his own after a remarkable show of community support that began a week ago during Race Week in Bristol.
In the days prior to the race, Roland Smith Jr. watched as total strangers build a house in the BMS parking lot. In the process, he says they transformed his life.
“I have really mixed emotions,” Smith said. “I’m in shock still. I cry. I call my parents to get comfort. I’m just overwhelmed. Roland Smith Jr. was chosen by the Appalachian Service Project to receive one of two new homes built during their “Race to Build” event at BMS.
“I was here from day one,” he said.
For Smith, it was a much-needed dose of good news.
The decorated U.S. Army Veteran served his country for seven years. But then he lost his wife, endured major surgery and then got the news from his landlord this his lease wasn’t being renewed.
Smith ended up at the Salvation Army in Johnson City where he found shelter, food, and loving support.
Many in his position might have despaired and asked – why me?
But as he watches his new home being built by volunteers who didn’t even know him until a few days ago, he was asking that question for a different reason.
“I keep saying, ‘Why me?’ There are other people who deserve it but I understand there’s a reason for everything,” he said. “This is God’s plan, and I can’t fight that. I need to continue to do what I’ve been doing and do better.”
Smith says he’s already making plans to hang pictures on the wall and then throw a party.
“One big barbeque for the people at the Salvation Army because that’s where I’m at now, and I want to pay back,” he said. “I never thought living in Johnson City I would be given a house, given the opportunity [to] pursue my dreams. I’m blessed. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t take it for granted.”
Mr. Smith’s home will be moved to Johnson City next week. Volunteers hope to have the inside finished and ready for move-in by the holidays.
The V-A has a 24-hour hotline for homeless veterans needing help and can be reached at 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838).