Jimmy Moore’s hometown is Bessemer but for three years, the U.S. Air Force veteran’s home was his 2007 Ford Explorer.
Moore, a 1974 McAdory High School grad, worried that his possessions might be stolen when he was homeless. He feared someone might stab him to take what he had.
“You were always having to be awake, 24-7, sleep lightly,” the 61-year-old said, “trying to figure out where you’re going next.”
But Moore can rest easy. He doesn’t fear for his safety or his possessions. He has a roof over his head, thanks to Operation Reveille, a one-day one-stop-shop that took chronically homeless veterans off the street and into their own homes.
Reveille is an Army term that refers to the first formation of the day. For the veterans who benefited from the operation, it signaled the beginning of a new day, one where they have a roof over their heads.
“Being here, having your own place, being off the street, it’s a lot better,” Moore said. “I love my apartment where I’m at now.”
Moore is one of 25 veterans who are now living in their own homes because of Operation Reveille, a program that was first tried in Tampa, Florida, and that that was highly successful when it was done in Jefferson County.
“We did it here in Birmingham and we had overwhelming success,” said Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman, himself a retired two-star general in the U.S. Army. “I believe the way that we approached it in Birmingham made the difference.”
Willie Fields is the homeless program coordinator for the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a non-veteran, he admits that his knowledge of reveille was limited to lyrics of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” the 1941 song by the Andrews Sisters.
But he quickly warmed to the concept, which cohort Paula Stokes learned about from the Tampa operation. The Birmingham event took place Jan. 18.
“What’s amazing about (what) we did is we turned it around in just over a month,” Fields said. “But we had the blueprint that was used in Florida.”
The Birmingham VA had conducted events in which it assembled vendors to see what they could offer veterans and so those vendors could learn what the VA does. But never had so many entities been brought together with the aim of immediately housing veterans.
That list, said Bowman, included the United Way, Housing and Urban Development, Legal Services, the Jefferson County Housing Authority and Housing Authority of the Birmingham District.
The housing authorities had already inspected properties and transportation was in place to take veterans to see the residences they might choose. Equally important, they had landlords who were willing to work with the program, accepting their vouchers for payment.
Adrian Peterson-Fields, senior vice president for HABD, said the process of getting homeless veterans into housing can often be very complicated. They may have credit issues, have outstanding utility bills or criminal issues.
“Most of the veterans that we serve are our veterans who have challenges with credit, with criminal backgrounds,” said the HABD administrator who is not related to the VA’s Willie Fields. “A lot of times when they go into the open market without assistance, without us partnering with landlords, they’re blocked.”
Peterson-Fields said HABD already served more than 200 veterans.
“When VA reached out to us to do Operation Reveille as a one-stop-shop, one-day lease up, we jumped on it as quickly as we could,” she said.
Sixteen of the 25 veterans who were housed used HABD vouchers.
“It was simply a housing fair,” Fields said, “but this one had some teeth in it. It was: I’ve got a place right here. Give me that voucher and before the end of the day, I’ll give you some keys. That’s what I loved about it.”
Bowman acknowledged the Army slogan of ‘No man left behind.’
“That’s a truism,” the commissioner said. “But there are many veterans that have fallen on hard times, some through no fault of their own. This is an attempt to try and reach a hand to pick them up to get them off the street, and for veterans to help other veterans.”
Peterson-Fields and others said the success of Operation Reveille has them thinking it can be repeated, perhaps annually or quarterly.
Air Force veteran Jimmy Moore has two grandsons, 4-year-old Isiah Moore and his 2-year-old brother Josiah. They have wanted to visit him but his homeless world was too unstable.
Now one of his two bedrooms has toys in place as he anxiously awaits their first trip.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said.