ROANOKE, Va. – A Roanoke man is hoping his testimony of turning his life around from homelessness will inspire others struggling in life to never stop fighting for better circumstances.
Now, he is giving back to the very organization that rescued him from hitting rock bottom.
Joshua Haley, 42, works as an assistant at The Least of These Ministry or TLOT. It’s a nonprofit that serves people experiencing homelessness.
“I help out here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during operation hours,” Haley said. “I get the coffee brewing and get things prepared when we open the doors. People come in and we get them to sign in and help with whatever their needs are.”
He works closely with Dawn Sandoval, the founder and executive director of the organization.
“When she is in here, we get them cycled through her office to help with getting them IDs and birth certificates and things of that nature,” Haley said.
Haley keeps himself busy from 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.
“I stock of the ambulance they take out nightly for ministry,” he said. “We get donations daily and I put them where they need to be. I also help with off-campus projects if needed.”
Haley said it is important that he carries himself with professionalism around the people they serve.
He was once in their shoes.
When I was coming here for help, I met a few people on the streets and now that I am working here, some of those relationships I built are still around. It is like a cycle. There are new people I am not familiar with and I try to make an introduction for them. I try to keep the image of me doing better to let them use that and know that it is possible. When I have some conversations with people that are homeless or when I see them out waving a sign, I always try to direct them here to TLOT.Joshua Haley
Haley is from Martinsville and was raised by his grandparents.
“My mom and dad were in and out of the younger part of my life because of their struggles,” he said. “I always did good in school, and then when I got into the 11th and 12th grade, I started goofing off a little bit.”
Haley said he always knew he wanted to go into the military.
“I graduated high school and a week later, I was in the military serving in Paris Island,” Haley said. ”I did eight years in the Marine Corps. When I got out, there were some obstacles and barriers I had to face.”
He said transitioning from military life to civilian life was very difficult.
On top of struggling to get accustomed to being around large groups of people due to his post-traumatic stress disorder, Haley was also dealing with an injury, which caused him to be dishonorably discharged.
“My unit was deployed to combat a lot,” Haley said. “Day-to-day life, you would be surprised with what bothers you. Around that time, there wasn’t much setup for PTSD when it first started. There were no places you could go because doctors were not really familiar with it. I had to wait for those advancements. Fortunately, we are great now. I think Salem is now number two in the nation as far as treatment and resources for people with PTSD. So if you want help, it is out there.”
Haley said his injury is what triggered his addiction to drugs.
“When I got hurt, I was prescribed a narcotic, and when I got out, they didn’t like prescribing narcotics at the VA for the fear of addictions forming, so I was shown the door and I had to find my own way because I was in so much pain. When I couldn’t find any medications or doctors that would help me, I turned to the street and that was all she wrote.”
In the meantime, Haley tried making a living.
“I found two jobs at the same time,” he said. “I have always found it hard to say no to people. I tried balancing the two jobs as much as I could. I got hired at a body shop, which went hand in hand with my passion for art. It was just something about doing something with your hands, and you can stand back and look at it proudly. It was like that for me when I painted cars. Unfortunately, it wasn’t paying the bills, so I ended up being a tattoo artist.”
Haley said his maturity level wasn’t ready for the lifestyle that came with that profession.
“I wasn’t ready for all the money and stuff that came with being a tattoo artist,” he said. “It sent me down the wrong path for a while. I did get married a couple of times and had two girls. While working, substance became a big part of my life. I always struggled with substance abuse. I have always been kind of a rebel.”
Haley said he was in and out of jail, which put him on a path to being homeless.
“I went to a rehab at the VA, and I had an incident where I got in some real big trouble,” he said. “I was a victim of robbery and reacted and ended up getting a malicious wounding charge that sent me to prison. I got five years and ended up doing three, but it changed a lot of the way I see things.”
After being incarcerated, Haley ended up on the street right when the pandemic hit.
“When I got out of jail, my check was cut off, and so I was without a paycheck for about nine or 10 months.”
While on the streets, Haley said his addiction got worse.
“I saw that part of society, and I became hooked on heroin and meth, and anything you think of I probably was hooked on,” Haley said. “I have been homeless twice. I am just not the person who asks for help. I stayed in communication with my family, but I left them in the dark a lot about what I was going through. One, I was embarrassed and two, I didn’t want to be a bother.”
Haley said he would sleep on Church Avenue and would go around to different places until he was told to leave.
“I have hid out behind churches and watched them have functions and different events and would wait for them to go away before I would go over to the dumpster and jump right in to try to get a meal. I have done all of those things. But, if you are hooked on a substance, that becomes your main part of life and that becomes your revolving circle of getting up and trying to find money to do drugs. Not necessarily to get high, but to stay well. Eating becomes kind of second nature.”
Haley said he hit rock bottom multiple times, but the last time was a life-changing decision for him.
My mom always told me there will be an alarm or bell that went off that says, ‘This is it. You need to make a choice to stop doing what you are doing and allowing it to take you where it is going to take you.’ I am not saying I will never have a relapse, but I have the tools to deal with this addiction. I hit rock bottom for the last time in 2021 when the pandemic started. I was still on the street when I decided to stop doing substances. I thought, ‘Getting housed is not going to come if I am doing this. I need to make the effort to stop doing this.’Joshua Haley
He said turning to Jesus Christ helped him.
“I got on my knees, and I prayed,” Haley said. “I have been saved a long time, so I asked God to show me the direction to take and give me some guidance.”
Fortunately, that is when Haley really became a part of TLOT.
“I met Dawn and that shaped and influenced a lot of different things,” Haley said. “It broke down some barriers for me, and I became her adoptive child. Here I am. This place has been my sanctuary, and everything has been good. I have a nice apartment and nice things I worked for. I got my driver’s license back. I’m off probation, and I am on a good page with everyone in my family. My daughters are back in my life. I have always tried not to hide things from my children, so getting where I am in a good spot for them is important to me. I am going through the courts to get my visitation rights for my younger daughter, but my older one and I are on speaking terms. We have a good relationship. She has forgiven me, and that is the one main thing that truly matters.”
Haley said now he hopes his story will have a positive impact on others in some form or fashion.
“People will look at your story and pass that judgment, but what they fail to realize is that you are a very intricate tool that was created to fix something else,” Haley said. “I have always known God was using me as a tool but now, he is really making it known. I am realizing that. I want to do God’s work, and I want to make him proud and that helps a lot. People need to not judge individuals for what they might be going through and just think, when they go out their front door, just think what they can do to make this world a better place.”
If you know someone who has a story or if you would like to share your story, contact me directly:
Social Media: Japhanie Gray WSLS 10 News