Homeless shelter helps Tampa Bay area veterans get back on their feet

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Retired Navy veteran Kelly Waggoner is opening the door to a new life with the help of the Homeless Empowerment Veterans Program, known as HEP, in Clearwater.

"This place has been a godsend," Waggoner told FOX 13.

He left the military in 1989 and became a truck driver, but his life spiraled out of control.

"I just had an extreme bout of depression," Waggoner said. "It was hard to get out of bed. I had no will to live."

But he said he found a new perspective when he ended up at the shelter.

"I have a better outlook on life and this place has given me a chance to re-focus," Waggoner said.

Ashley Lowery is CEO of the non-profit, and says their goal is to be the last homeless shelter any veteran has to enter.

"We provide any support service that we think of veteran facing homelessness would need, from transportation, to dental care, mental health counseling," Lowery said. "Its a huge privilege to be able to serve the men and women who serve our country."

The three-month program helps more than 500 veterans a year. Ninety percent of the veterans that go through the initiative are never homeless again.

"They steer you in the right direction," Waggoner said. "They lead you to the water. Whether you choose to drink is left up to you. There's a lot of support here."

He said that support has changed his life.

"There's nothing but love here. Its a good place to be," Waggoner said. "They do a lot of good for a lot of people."