Wheaton, Illinois (CNN) --
Alex Garcia is an Iraq war veteran
who feels lucky. He's never needed
the homeless shelter where he works.
With his easy smile and a boyish
face, Iraqi kids took to calling him
"baby" in the war zone, so much that
his superiors in Baghdad had him
wear a bandana across his face.
After serving from 2004 to 2005
during the height of Iraq's
insurgency, Garcia, 25, says he had
a relatively stress-free transition
back to civilian life. Today, Garcia
works at the Midwest Shelter for
Homeless Veterans in Wheaton,
Illinois, helping others who didn't
have such an easy time returning
It doesn't happen overnight, he
explains, but it is a process to end
up with nowhere to call home.
"That's ultimately what it is ...
you burn one too many bridges"
Garcia says. He starting working at
the shelter in 2008, a year after
Vietnam vet Bob "Doc" Adams opened
it. Adams got the idea after
visiting a similar shelter in
Boston, Massachusetts, in 1997 and
thinking, "Why can't we do that
here?" So 10 years later, with help
from other veterans, local unions
and a grant from Dupage County, he
started the shelter.
Adams knows all too well the
downward spiral that leads to a life
on the streets. Post-traumatic
stress disorder, or PTSD, is often
the reason many veterans end up
without a roof over their heads. "It
is a destroyer of spirits, it is a
destroyer of relationships, it plays
havoc on people's employment and it
touches every fabric of someone's
life," Adams said.
In DuPage County, recent statistics
show that one out of every three
people who are homeless are
veterans. Since the opening, Adams
has helped more than 30 homeless
veterans, whose service has spanned
from Korea to Afghanistan. While
he's happy to help older veterans,
Adams started the shelter mainly for
younger warriors from Iraq and
Afghanistan who appear to have more
time on the battlefield than
soldiers from his generation.
"The kinds of PTSD symptoms I've
seen amongst those veterans is a
much more powerful strain than even
the ones among my era," he says. In
addition to small financing from the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,
the shelter is also supported by
donations from around northeast
Illinois. People donate items such
as nonperishable foods and
electronics, including a large
television for the common area.
The shelter is looking to double its
capacity once it opens a new
apartment building nearby. Adams
feels that inexpensive housing is a
pivotal step for veterans trying to
transition to civilian life.
At the shelter, there is a daily
routine designed to mirror military
life. For veterans, it is a way to
help warriors transition from the
streets back into a more
self-sustaining life. The rigid
program starts in the morning with
room inspections, followed by a
class on finance management and
employment. The instructor leads the
the veterans through mock interviews
and prepares the students for tough
During his evening shift, Garcia
checks around the shelter to make
sure that the assigned duties are
accomplished before lights out. He
says he hopes to stay on with "Doc"
Adams because "it's a moving force
that I want to be a part of."