After his honorable discharge, Rodriguez came home to a whirlwind of trauma, setting in motion a sequence of events that left him homeless and on the edges of society.
“When I came back I lost my grandfather, and we were very close,” Rodriguez said. “So I started using.”
Rodriguez soon became addicted to crack and cocaine and watched his world fall into a spiral, a trap that so many other veterans returning home from service find themselves in.
“A friend of mine introduced me to it, and from there I got hooked,” he said. “I lost my wife, I lost my kids, my parents, my brothers and my sisters. They left me all behind.”
It wasn’t until 2010 that Rodriguez chose to take steps towards ending the cycle by admitting himself into professional care.
Now just one year after taking up shelter at the Reality House in Astoria, Rodriguez has enrolled in culinary school, secured a job, found an apartment and is back on his feet once again.
“After I graduated, the next day I got hired,” he said. “It was a lucky shot.”
Reality House has served the veterans with substance abuse and other issues since 1967. The 30-bed transitional housing facility recently relocated to 8-13 Astoria Blvd., and offers a supervised outpatient chemical dependency treatment program for both the general population, as well as veterans and their families.
Without the help provided by Reality House, Rodriguez said he would never have found his second chance at life.
Onaja Mu’id, clinical associate director at the center, said the center’s main goal is to put those who are addicted to drugs or have lost their way back on their feet and functioning in society.
“What we’re trying to do is assimilate veterans back into society,” Mu’id said. “A lot of times when these people are homeless and on the streets, they have no assistance and they don’t know where to get it.”
Clinical supervisor Yvette Taylor said the center currently goes to homeless shelters and meets with families on the street and at places of wroship to help spread the word of their services.
“If you’re going through something, your wife and kids are going through something, we are able to help out the whole family,” Taylor said. “Somebody knows somebody who is in need of our services.”
Rodriguez added that he has seen both sides of the fight, and that he knows many others who have not been able to “take the bull by the horns.”
“If you don’t take the information they give you and do the footwork, you won’t go nowhere,” he said. “You’re going to be stuck in the chair here doing nothing like a couple of guys I know.”
Today, this Queens veteran is spending weekends with his children and he sees his parents as often as he can.
“I built those bridges back up,” he said. “I’m not going to knock them down again.”