U.S. Army Spc. Nick Newby normally called his mom when she got ready for work.
There is a 10-hour time difference between Iraq and Idaho, and so in the evening he would describe the day’s mission while Theresa Hart got ready in the morning for her shift as a registered nurse.
Ten months into a year-long deployment those phone calls ended.
“Quite honestly, people ask me if I worried about him, and I’d say, ‘Well, I worried about him in the sense that: Was he hot? Was he cold? Was he hungry? Was he tired? Were they all being nice to him?'” Hart said.
She said Newby told her he had all the trust in the world in the Army, his armor and his brothers, but he feared one thing: explosively formed projectiles.
“And that is what killed him. An EFP. It picked up his Humvee and moved it 20 feet through an other concrete barrier,” Hart said.
Pictures of Newby and the driver of that Humvee, Nathan Beyers, who also passed, now stand vigil in the hall of heroes in Newby-ginnings, a non-profit Hart began in 2013 to offer supplies and resources for homeless Veterans who’ve recently been offered housing through partnerships with organizations like VA and Goodwill Industries’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families.
She said she started Newby-ginnings to help the Veteran community after she left her position as a nurse following Newby’s death.
“When something like that happens to you, it changes you on a cellular level,” Hart said. “It just absolutely consumed me.”
Their facilities are located in Post Falls, Idaho, and are staffed by about 20 volunteers. Community members donate items like furniture, clothing, food, household supplies, appliances, books, movies and other things to help fill Veterans new homes.
It’s all free.
Veterans need only show proof of service. She said volunteers ask what they need and fill a cart with supplies to help get them back on their feet.
“We stock it and wheel it out to them. You should see their face,” Hart said. “They’re starting out with nothing. They’re starting off with a backpack they’ve been lugging around.”
There is also a room filled with free crutches and wheelchairs to help alleviate the costs of healthcare after they’re been discharged.
Hart said they have over 2,000 Veterans on file. On average, about 300 people visit the facilities during the three days per week that they’re open.
She said it’s more than a shop. It’s an environment that provides emotional healing through community support.
They hear hundreds of heartbreaking cases.
“We had a family who came in. It was a mother, father and 15-year-old son, who had been living in their car for 16 months,” Newby-ginnings volunteer Carla Allert said. “They had finally gotten into a house and then he was laid off work. So, I was taking her around and I was taking her to get her furniture and stuff, and she just started bawling.”
Hart said the storefront creates a community of kindness that promotes support for Veterans, no matter where they are in their life.
Through word-of-mouth, Veterans like Leilani Fernandez are made aware of Newby-ginnings after being provided housing through various support networks.
Fernandez served active duty from 1994 to 1998 in the U.S. Air Force, and was a reservist until 2007.
During that time, she was temporarily deployed to Saudi Arabia with her now-ex husband.
When they divorced, Fernandez said her life took a few turns, but after moving to Idaho she met her current partner Jeff.
Unfortunately, they ran into issues after losing their jobs, and ended up homeless for about 10 months. She had her children stay elsewhere while they worked things out.
“Last year … it was extremely cold. That was for the month of November. We were living in our car. We squatted at a warehouse for a little while — got found out about that, so we had to leave,” Fernandez said. “You become desperate. You just want to get out of the cold. You just want a bed to lay in.”
Afterward, they received housing through a couple local nonprofits and things started to turn around.
She was referred to Hart to help make ends meet with household necessities.
“We had absolutely nothing. We had the clothes on our backs and that was it. We had no toys for the kids. We had no furniture. We had zero … everything,” Fernandez said.
She said there are public misconceptions about homelessness.
“I don’t think that [the public] really understands because before that happened to me, I had an idea of what homelessness looked like, and it’s completely different than what it actually is,” Fernandez said.
Hart said empathy is hard to grasp until you’ve experienced identical hardship.
“It’s kind of like my situation. Your brain doesn’t let you go there until you’re in that situation. Like losing Nick for me, it’s like your brain doesn’t let you go there,” Hart said. “You can’t understand. There’s no way to understand something like that, and like what [Leilani] has been through until you’ve been through it.”
Carlos Acuña, a Navy corpsman with the Marines from 1991 to 1995, agreed that the public holds misconceptions about homeless Veterans and how they handle trauma.
“A lot of times they think we’re going to explode or go off or something, or start shooting up things,” Acuña said. “Mainly it’s just we want to be left alone. We just can’t associate in crowds of people or functions. Not every Vet. There’s a lot of outgoing and great Vets, but everybody is different.”
Acuña said he has benefited from Newby-ginnings and Veteran housing programs, but not many Veterans are aware of all the resources available.
“It just depends on if you want that help. Because if you don’t and have no support at all, it’s pretty bleak,” he said. “I would just say when you’re ready to move on or get help, there’s always something out there for you guys, for us.”
Both Acuña and Fernandez said December is a hard month for Veterans.
In and around the Inland Northwest, Hart hopes to help Veteran families by signing them up for the Newby-ginnings Christmas program where local families can adopt Veteran households and get in contact about what they may need or want during the holiday season.
All in all, Hart said her nonprofit is intended to provide a non-judgmental support network for any Veteran that comes to her door.
“When I think about being homeless, and then I think about being a Veteran, and then I think about meeting the people who’ve helped us, it’s almost like serving my country and then my country helping me back has given me a sense of camaraderie that I had when I was in the military,” Fernandez said.
About the author: Jake Smith is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters and Bigfoot Gun Belts, brands owned and operated by Tedder Industries. He also freelances in the Pacific Northwest as a writer and photographer.