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Meet Mr. Williams: A veteran and resident of The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence

Opened in 2016, The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence is a 124-unit, mixed-income residence for veterans who have formerly experienced chronic homelessness and low-income residents.
  |  April 7, 2023

Mr. Williams, a resident of The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence since 2017, shares his experience in the military and his journey to calling The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence home.

Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Resident at Conway since: February 2017
Military branch served: U.S. Navy
Length and location of service: Eight years, with two years of active duty and six years in the reserve in Washington, D.C.

Serving in the U.S. Navy

Older photograph of young Black teenager smiling wearing white Navy uniform with tie and hat
Mr. Williams in 1969 serving in the U.S. Navy

Mr. Williams was born and raised in Northeast Washington, D.C., and served in the U.S. Navy for eight years total. After attending boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois at age 18, he then spent time at the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Virginia, where he served as an Electrical Mechanical Repairman. He then returned home to Washington, D.C., to Navy Yard where he remained in reserve for six years until he was honorably discharged.

Mr. Williams comes from a large family, with two older sisters, two older brothers, and one younger brother. Several family members had also served in the military, one of whom was an uncle, who died serving in Vietnam. Mr. Williams’ oldest brother was in the Army and received orders to fight in the Vietnam War.

“So my mother had to write a letter saying that she already had somebody in her family to die in Vietnam, and not to take her son — my brother. And that worked out,” Mr. Williams explained.

Mr. William’s other older brother joined the Navy. “He was on three different ships. And on one of the ships, he was the first Black electrician on that ship,” Mr. Williams noted.

After active duty

After his time in active duty, Mr. Williams went to night school at Washington Tech to pursue his GED and then on to a two-year college course in electricity. He joined a basketball team while in school, which practiced regularly outside in a park since there was no gym. 

During one outdoor practice, Mr. Williams hurt his knee and realized he couldn’t walk when he got up. He went to a VA Hospital where he was told he had to rest for six to eight weeks, which caused him to have to drop out of school since he couldn’t keep up with his studies while injured.

This led him to work for several years as an electrician, after which he drove supply trucks for D.C. Public Works and D.C. Public Schools. Mr. Williams also worked at the Smithsonian Museums for almost 12 years doing maintenance work in a couple of different locations of the museum, including the Freer Gallery of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian.

Then in 2013, Mr. Williams secured his Class B Commercial Driver’s License, which allowed him to drive charter and tour buses.

“Right before I was about to retire, I was driving vans to pick people up from their homes, take them to their medical appointments, and then bring them back home. That kind of closed my chapter out in my employment,” he said. “Now I’m around 69, going on 70. I’ve been retired for a little while.”

Mr. Williams’ experience with homelessness

Before he passed away in 2005, Mr. Williams’ father left him most of everything in his will, leaving his siblings mostly out of it. Because of their unhappiness with this arrangement, his siblings sued Mr. Williams for equal amounts of what his father left them. 

Even though Mr. Williams won his case, he spent so much time in court that he had to excuse himself from the Smithsonian and leave his job. He also began waking up with regular migraines during this time, which led him to the VA Hospital. As a result, Mr. Williams had to sell his house and live with his mother for a little while. 

“And then that’s when the homelessness kicked in after a while,” he explained. “So from January 2016 to February the 15th of 2017, I was with a transitional home for the vets in D.C.”

Beginning the first week he was in the VA transitional home, Mr. Williams worked Monday through Friday at his newly acquired job transporting people to their medical appointments. “I didn’t have to work, but I worked. You know, I had my own job,” he said.

“And on February the 15th of 2017, I moved here — I’ve been here ever since.”

Living at The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence

After spending 13 months in a transitional home for veterans, Mr. Williams moved into The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence.  “I do appreciate the home that I have,” Mr. Williams noted. 

“I’m comfortable. Everything’s alright here. I’m appreciative of what I have.”

Mr. Williams

His home is a little larger than a studio, and though he wishes he had more closet space, “I’m comfortable,” he said. “Everything’s alright here. I’m appreciative of what I have.”

He likes that he can walk to a nearby grocery store or Walmart, but does sometimes wish he had a car that he could park nearby to be able to drive to shop for groceries. Being within his hometown of Washington, D.C. also allows him to be near his adult daughters, one of whom lives in the District and another who lives nearby in Maryland.

Looking ahead

Mr. Williams has a variety of interests, with music being a commonality in many of them. He enjoys listening to music like progressive jazz, funk, and rhythm and blues. “I used to be in a rhythm and blues singing group with my youngest brother and his wife,” he noted. “I’m also an amateur bass player, and once in a while I pick it up and fiddle around a little bit.”

He also likes watching TV in his home at the Conway Residence, especially documentaries, dramas, comedies, and action and thriller shows. He enjoys reading and occasionally playing cards or chess in Conway’s Multipurpose Room with other residents. 

Moving forward, Mr. Williams wants to be sure to continue going to all of his doctor’s appointments.

“I’m trying to live as long as I can. I’ll be 70 years old in August. I’m not getting any younger, but I’m trying to keep pace with my health,” he said. “I thank God that I’m here.”

Learn about stories of other people who experienced homelessness and now have a home at The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence