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Formerly homeless veteran Jesse Buckley is photographed outside of the Chattanooga Public Library on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Buckley, who was helped by the city to find housing, still needs basic necessities like bedding and dishes, and the city is hosting a donation drive for veterans on Saturday.

Ask 51-year-old Persian Gulf War veteran Jesse Buckley what he says to encourage people to donate items in the city's Veterans Supplies & Action Day and he responds by flashing a mason ring on one hand and a 1982 high school state championship football ring on the other.

"I'm used to having stuff," he said. "Here, I have nothing."

According to Buckley, he was a star football player at Columbia High School in Columbia, Miss., and he's from a family of famous athletes. He says Terrell Buckley, safeties coach at Mississippi State University and former cornerback in the National Football League, is his nephew and that the late NFL player Walter "Sweetness" Payton was his cousin.

His family owns land in Mississippi, and his brother is a church Bishop. Buckley said he was a chief warrant officer who flew helicopters in the U.S. Army. He served from 1983 to 2007. His time includes 13 years in active duty in the army and 11 years in the National Guard.

But in Chattanooga, Buckley is a formerly homeless veteran who has been arrested for possession of a controlled substance, public intoxication and theft. The city and the program, Mission Accomplished: Stable Housing, or M.A.S.H., helped him get a house, but he has no furniture, dishes or even a bed.

Buckley is among several recently housed veterans who lack the furniture and supplies needed to make their house a home.

To help, the city is partnering with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to host a Veterans Supplies & Action Day.

The event is scheduled from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. today at the UTC Mocs Military Appreciation Day Game at Finley Stadium and First Tennessee Pavilion. City representatives will be at the veterans campaign tent at 20th and Chestnut streets to collect items.

The city is asking people to donate bedding, rugs, kitchen appliances, dining chairs, toiletries, towels, pillows, and cleaning supplies.

"If you don't have plates and glasses and shower curtains and towels and sheets to lay down on at night, that's not really home, and so we really need to give these folks a fair start," said Heather Hoffman, the city's homeless coordinator.

The city has housed 220 veterans since January 2015, when it took on a nationwide initiative called Zero: 2016, promising zero veteran homelessness by the end of this year. Some 39 veterans currently remain homeless.

Hoffman said this month that the goal of zero homelessness is within reach. Since July, the city has hired four part-time staff to assist in meeting with veterans and helping them to get housing. The city also needs help from the community, said Hoffman.

"We've been housing more veterans more quickly, which is wonderful," she said. "But we're going through our supplies more quickly, so we really really are in desperate need of help from the community."

Buckley gave 24 years in military service to his country and he's asking for help to get him and other veterans back on their feet.

"Freedom is not free," Buckley said. "Somebody died, and we would do it again."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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