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Dorian Zittle, a 65-year-old Veteran, had been through his share of challenges in life before receiving help from the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program and Harris County Housing Authority (HCHA).

“I wouldn’t want to do anything to mess this up,” Dorian said as he explained how forever grateful he is to have the opportunity to have a place to call home.

The HUD-VASH program combines the Department of Housing and Urban
Development’s Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance for homeless veterans and their families with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs at its’ medical centers and in the community.

Zittle was drafted into the Army shortly after graduating high school. He spent time training at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas where he also attended the missile training school. Zittle described using the radar stations as if they were like playing a video game. He mentioned how the Army was a great experience for him overall. Not only did he meet a lot of people, it “made him grow up” and helped his overall well-being.

After the Army, Zittle thrived in his career as a leading commercial electrician for several large companies which he enjoyed because he was always handy with tools and problem-solving. Being an electrician provided a stable life for him, however; the stress and demands of the job triggered depression and other issues which eventually led to the worst time in Zittle’s life.

“I was homeless and hopeless,” Zittle expressed.

During his time of homelessness, Zittle was introduced to the HUD-VASH program. With assistance from the program, he started to get the guidance that he needed both mentally and financially in order to get back to self-sufficiency. The HUD-VASH program provided him with concentrated care, classes, job searching, and a case manager that would help navigate him back to a healthy lifestyle.

Zittle said he wouldn’t be in his home without the help of  Paula Burns, the Asset Manager at HCHA. When Burns learned about Zittle, she knew that he would be a good candidate for the HUD-VASH program.

“Dorian has changed tremendously,” Burns stated, “He started off more reserved and kept to himself. Now, he has a more open personality. He’s much more vibrant,” she said.

Zittle now lives at HCHA’s Sierra Meadows property, which he describes as a small, warm and peaceful community where the residents, come together to look after each other.

Zittle lives with his service dog, Roxy, who gets a lot of attention around the community. He speaks of her as if she’s his own child. Zittle recently suffered from a heart attack and stroke,  but Roxy was there to save his life. “If it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve died in my sleep,” Zittle said.

Besides taking Roxy on walks and to the park to play, Zittle also likes to keep up with hobbies from his youth. One of his hobbies is playing Blues music on the acoustic guitar. He is self-taught and said he learned by playing along with instructional videos. He says music, in general, keeps his mind “organized”.

“I went from nothing to having a beautiful apartment in a wonderful community and a new best friend,” Zittle said. “I can’t express how thankful I am for this program and HCHA for helping me get my life back on track.”

Photos and Story by Eriel Chambers, Intern, University of Houston