Matthew Farnung knows substance abuse and homelessness.
Now the Navy veteran is preparing to use his experience and some training to help others overcome addictions and mental health issues that sometimes lead to homelessness.
Farnung is part of a group of veterans being trained in peer counseling, one of several programs that the Volunteers of America multi-service center offers to residents and others at Veterans Village, a transitional home for veterans.
"I've been through some of it," he said as he sat in counselor/instructor David Wilkins' classroom at the VOA center in Cocoa. "I had a substance abuse problem."
Farnung, who also suffered from cancer, said he is drug free and is grateful for the help he has received. He now wants to complete the 40-hour course and move on to help others, whether at the village or elsewhere.
"I want to give back," he said. "I can help them."
David Johnson, a psychologist, directs health services for the veterans at the service center.
"There are only so many of us, so we're empowering them to help each other," he said.
Farnung, 61, a Navy veteran, has spent about a year at Veterans Village, a transitional apartment complex on Peachtree Street in Cocoa that can house 80 people who were homeless.
Residents can stay at the transitional home until they are ready to regain their independence or for up to two years.
"We don't encourage that," said Sylvester Jones, housing and property manager for the village.
Jones said that instead of staying that long, residents are urged to meet three goals toward independence — address any substance-abuse or mental health problems, find employment or be enrolled in school or a job-training program and find secure housing. The average stay is about 18 months, he said.
"Our successful discharge is over 82 percent," Jones said. "That means they've met all three goals."
David Scarborough, training and education manager for VOA, said while the programs look out first for the veterans at the village, it is also designed to help others.
"Our programs are all about veterans," he said. "But we're here for the community at large."
Programs and courses include vocational training, job search skills and other courses.
Tim Warr is grateful for the help he has received from VOA and counts himself among the successes of the programs.
Warr, 53, is a former Army warrant officer who piloted Blackhawk cutline helicopters and later ran a construction business until the severe downturn in new home building a few years ago.
Warr, his wife Michelle and their 16-year-old daughter found themselves homeless and turned to Veterans Village.
"We came here in a very delicate state of mind," he said.
He now has about six weeks left to complete a course in aerospace technology at Eastern Florida State College. And having completed nearly two years at the village, the family is ready to move out.
"We're in a position where we'll be able to do that," he said. "I have nothing but the best to say about these folks."
Jones said that while VOA helps veterans, it needs the help and support of the community.
"Money just doesn't fall out of the sky for us," he said. "We're always in need of money to help. We also accept material donations. We're always in need of beds, furniture and appliances."
Michelle Clough, a community specialist program lead for VOA, said that several groups help with volunteer work and donations. But more is needed.
"One of our big projects is to get the apartments renovated," she said.