COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — James Snorgrass stood at the corner of a Columbia intersection, waiting for the bus to arrive at 7:10 a.m. A knee-length parka was wrapped around his slender frame. An insulated hat covered his salt and pepper hair.
"It's a cold morning to be out here," Snorgrass said, as he leaned out into the street looking for the bus.
Snorgrass, an Army veteran, had caught the same bus every weekday for more than a month to get to Truman Veterans Hospital.
"This is my every day routine," Snorgrass said. "Monday through Friday."
In many ways, the veterans hospital has become the center of his life. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has provided him with medical care, counseling, classes on budgeting and an apartment to live in, the Columbia Missourian (http://bit.ly/1c9TLly ) reports.
Before October, Snorgrass, 57, was homeless, living at the Salvation Army's Harbor House.
But in October, Snorgrass was accepted into a house operated under the Veterans Affairs' Transitional Residence Program, where he lives with seven other previously homeless veterans.
In total, Veterans Affairs has provided housing and subsidized rental opportunities to 126 veterans in Columbia. The housing is part of a larger push by Veterans Affairs to eliminate veteran homelessness in the United States by 2015.
In 2013, Veterans Affairs increased funding for homeless-veterans programs by more than $80 million. The increased funding could soon provide rental subsidies for 13 more veterans in Columbia.
The push to reduce homelessness has made an impact, according to an annual report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The report showed that veteran homelessness has declined by an estimated 24 percent since 2009.
Snorgrass pays $300 a month to live at the house, and the residence program covers the cost of utilities.
"It's a good thing for vets getting back on their feet," Snorgrass said. "If I wasn't a vet, I don't think I could deal with everything by myself.
"They pay the gas and lights. All you have to do is buy your food."
But in less than a year, Snorgrass has to move out of the transitional housing and find his own apartment.
He worries that he won't be able to afford food and the higher rent of other apartments in Columbia.
"The first month will probably be a little touchy," Snorgrass said.
The bus came to a stop. Snorgrass took off his thick winter gloves — donations along with his hat and coat — and handed the driver his ticket.
As he stared out the window at the familiar scenery of the route, Snorgrass cupped his hands and pressed them against his graying mustache, trying to warm them with his breath. The bracelet on his wrist read, "Support Our Veterans."
Snorgrass, who has suffered from depression and alcoholism, goes to the veterans hospital every weekday to take part in group counseling sessions. He began attending the sessions as part of his housing agreement with Veterans Affairs, but has continued to go even after completing the 21 required days.
"They told me, 'You know all your warning signs now,'" Snorgrass said. "You know what made you relapse. You really don't have to come to that many classes. But I told them, 'I do want to come because it does keep me sharper, and if I see somebody struggling, I can help them out with that.'
Said Snorgrass' sister, Joyce Foster: "It's been a lifeline for him."
Snorgrass suffers from a debilitating back injury that he has had four surgeries to try to correct.
Snorgrass said he first injured his back in the Army, the result of unloading large rounds of ammunition from a truck at Fort Ord in California. While working as a manager at a fast-food restaurant, a tank of soda rolled off a truck and struck Snorgrass in the back, he said.
The accident made it difficult for him to work, and led to the string of surgeries that has still left him with herniated disks in his lower back.
For a while, Snorgass was able to work as a certified nursing assistant for a couple nursing homes, Foster said. But employers did not want to hire him, he said, because they saw his back injury as a liability.
"My brother has never been a person that was lazy and didn't want to work," Foster said. "But there you are, stuck between a rock and a hard place."
When his back injury worsened, he began drinking every day. He stopped attending church and quit leading Sunday school.
"If I was in pain, I would self-medicate," Snorgrass said, admitting that it really didn't help.
"I was having a hard time paying bills," he said. "I was getting behind in my rent and everything else, and when you get behind like that, it's hard to get caught back up.
"I never was able to get caught back up."
Snorgrass took care of his mother as she was dying from pancreatic cancer, and Foster said her death also played into her brother's depression.
"I'm sure that impacted him emotionally," Foster said. "It's something he talks about a lot."
Snorgrass said he tried to quit drinking on several occasions, but would always relapse. At times, Snorgrass became so depressed he considered taking his own life.
"I was beating myself up over it," Snorgrass said. "I had to learn to quit beating myself over it and let go of the past, and just live one day at a time."
Snorgrass entered the lobby of the veterans hospital and took a seat below the large American flag draped above the waiting room.
Veterans of different ages and branches of the military moved about the hospital. Some took advantage of the freshly brewed coffee near the entrance.
"I usually get here early to drink a cup of coffee and relax," Snorgrass said.
There are many veterans who need help. Many of the people who lived at the Salvation Army were veterans, Snorgrass said.
"It's getting scary, because people depend on the pantries and places that can help them with food and stuff," he said. "And right now, people are struggling with jobs. So the ones who used to have these jobs that donated, they're finding themselves having to go there. It's pretty rough."
The help Snorgrass has received through Veterans Affairs has given him a new outlook on life. "I'm not looking back," he said.