Beat Homelessness: Lessons from a Navy Vet

Just over a year ago, Kevin Nelson, a U.S. Navy veteran, was homeless and living on the street. Today he's got a permanent address and is on the verge of making his entrepreneurial dreams a reality: In January, he'll be presenting his trademarked stereo speakers at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas--all expenses paid.

Nelson's path to homelessness began when a girlfriend took off with thousands of dollars that he was saving to help develop his speakers. "With my money gone, I couldn't pay the rent," he told RentedSpaces.

So he began living and sleeping in public areas of San Diego. During the day, he'd use the computers at the local library and post ads on Craigslist hawking his handyman services, which included fixing cars, TVs and other electronics. The experienced car mechanic used the money he earned to build custom high-performance stereos out of a friend's garage, and he'd sell those on eBay.

There are lessons we can learn from Nelson's inspirational story, and things neighbors can do to help the homeless get back on their feet.


In February 2009, Nelson was picked up for illegal lodging and brought up before San Diego's "homeless court." DLA Piper attorneys Erica Pascal and Adam Garson represented Nelson pro bono in homeless court. When they heard the former nuclear submarine welder's story about his fledgling speaker business, Zealth Audio Loudspeakers--which had sold nearly three dozen pairs of speakers through word of mouth and on eBay--they quickly connected Nelson with a team of attorneys, who applied for trademark registration on his behalf and helped secure free exhibit space for him at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Meanwhile, Nelson needed a roof over his head. A Craigslist contact to whom he had been providing repair services let Nelson live in a small studio on his property rent-free while Nelson did odd jobs around the property, from digging ditches to repairing cars.

"I have a kitchen and bathroom and a wall heater. It is pretty nice," says Nelson, who still resides there but is hopeful that at some point after CES show his business will take off so that he can not only get a shop for his stereos, but also a permanent residence.

"I would love to have my own place. I love San Diego," says Nelson, who grew up in Omaha, Neb., and did tours of duty in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, and Australia.

Nelson's story has a happy ending, thanks to some concerned members of the community. If you want to give a hand to someone who's homeless, there are many resources available to help them get back on their feet.

Pro Bono attorneys. A number of law firms provide pro bono assistance with housing court or related matters. To find them, contact a Volunteer Lawyers Network in your area.

Local shelters. Consult a database of homeless shelters to find one in your area that has immediate openings. The database can direct you to shelters that serve men, women, and families. Some have extended hours in the winter months.

Low-income / public housing. If you're seeking information about Section 8 housing, public housing and other low-income housing programs, contact a Housing Authority in your area. Many have online applications and links to other housing resources.

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