TRAVERSE CITY — Dennis Hyland was a bit cold when he left Charlevoix County Jail last November, clad in the same clothes he went in with — a polo shirt and a pair of shorts.
Hyland, who had never had so much as a speeding ticket, was surprised when he was picked up and jailed for 90 days in August for failing to pay $442 in child support for his twin, teen daughters.
“I didn’t know there was a bench warrant,” he said, “because the lock on our mailbox had been broken for 30 days.”
During his jail time he lost everything — his job, apartment, furniture, and even his car, which was towed and used in a fire exercise by Petoskey firefighters.
Now Hyland, 52, who served in the Air Force for nearly 13 years, is back on his feet, thanks to kind relatives and a host of services that aim to help veterans.
One of the newest sources of help is Supportive Services for Veteran Families, funded by the Veterans Administration, which provided more than $600,000 to northern Michigan this year to assist veterans in the 21-county area.
The Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency is administering the program and wants to get out the word. To date, it has helped 178 veterans and their families and has funds to do more. The program will pay the security deposit and first month’s rent for veterans, said Melodie Linebaugh, NMCAA’s homeless programs manager.
“We also provide supportive services,” she said. “If you have a bad water pump in the car, and it’s stopping you from making money, that’s a barrier to work and a place to live. So we may help get the car fixed.”
After getting out of jail, Hyland’s uncle bought him some winter clothes and a cell phone. Hyland moved to Traverse City to stay at the Goodwill since Petoskey doesn’t have a homeless shelter. Then he sought out help from area agencies, including the Veteran’s Administration office and Michigan Works.
A veteran’s representative at Michigan Works told him about a federal veteran’s retraining program that would pay him $1,564 a month if he returned to college. He started school in January, but didn’t receive the $4,700 stipend until April, making it a tough road.
“I didn’t have two quarters to rub together,” he said.
Hyland said it took him 75 minutes to take a bus and then walk to Northwestern Michigan College from the shelter. He had to travel often in order to use the computer lab since Goodwill Inn refused him access to its Internet, he said.
Meanwhile, Majszak found a mobile home for Hyland that he could share with two others and organized V.A. funds to pay his security deposit and first month’s rent — about $1,100.
“He had a good plan and we brought it all together,” Majsczak said.
Hyland is now working a part-time job at an auto supply store and paying off the child support bill, now at $1,800, including penalties and interest. He was able to adapt to tough times, he said, thanks to his military experience, but added some veterans he’s met are “having a rough time.”
“My message to them is, ‘Don’t despair’,” he advised. “There are people and programs to help you.”
The NMCAA offers a helping hand to all homeless, including veterans. For more information, call 947-3780.