On the streets of Saint Paul, he goes by the name Iron Mike.
He carries a cane, though he doesn’t always need it. His right forearm speaks of his military record; “USN Never Again” is sealed in ink. He’s used up all of the holes on his belt, his pants a bit too large or his body too small.
Mike, 69, is both a former sailor and a U.S. Marine. His home, or the closest thing to it, is a thin mat on a hard floor at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center.
The son of a WWII vet, Mike earned a Purple Heart fighting in the Vietnam War. He enlisted when he was just 17-years-old.
“I was a kiddie cruiser,” he explained, his uncles signing for him since he was underage. He served in the Navy for five years and was out just 195 days before joining the Marines.
Military service was in his blood. Mike remembers signing a paper when he was just 6-years-old, saying he was enlisting. But serving was hard on Mike’s mind and body. He left the Marines six months early with a medical discharge and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“When I came home I sat in the basement for six months doing puzzles. If I was in pain, I’d grab a bottle of vodka and medicate,” he said.
He’s been medicating, and telling war stories from his time in the mortar division ever since. While he worked for years, got married and had children, the images of war never left and alcohol robbed him of those he loved, robbed him of security and a home.
Thanks to you, he had a place to turn when everyone else had turned against him. Thanks to you, he had a safe place to sleep each night and food for his belly.
Homeless for 14 years, Mike won’t complain about sleeping on the floor—it’s good for his bad back—but he doesn’t relish the tight quarters.
“I don’t mind sleeping on the floor, but I wish there was enough room for my ears to wiggle,” he jokes. “I complain about this place just like everyone else, but deep down my honest opinion is, thank God for this place.”
Change is in the air. Mike has been sober for nearly two weeks. He was able to get into a sobriety program at the St. Cloud VA at month’s end.
“I want to enjoy my retirement. I want to enjoy and see my grandchildren,” he said. “I’d like to get up to 152 pounds again. I want to be cigarette and alcohol-free and have a nice apartment and have peace and tranquility and go to church.”