Homeless: Ex-NBA Player & Vet's Comeback

Coniel Norman, who is a former NBA player and a military veteran, was homeless right before he moved into Piquette Square, a new, $23-million 150-unit apartment project in Detroit built to house and care for homeless veterans.

Norman was a star on the University of Arizona basketball team in 1972 and was later drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia '76ers, where he played two seasons before heading to the Continental Basketball Association and then the San Diego Clippers. After being released by the Clippers in 1979, he enlisted in the military.

"My brother served in the Army and was in Vietnam," Norman says. "I was looking for a career after basketball and I wanted to see what military life was like."
However, nearly 30 years after being discharged he was homeless in Los Angeles. The facilities at Piquette Square were designed for veterans like him.

"We have a job training program called Detroit Green Works Solutions," says Steve Palackdharry, the communications manager at Southwest Solutions, which runs Piquette Square. "He went through that [12-week program] and was able to get ajobafter that doinglandscaping. He is well on his way to building his life.

"Not only does it provide high quality housing," Palackdharry said of the program, "but it helps [veterans] with many unique needs they have, including workforce development."

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Norman's military career included being stationed in Germany, where he served four years. Afterward, he played professional basketball in Europe for seven seasons, but his basketball career came to an abrupt halt when he was injured in a serious car accident on the Autobahn.

He then moved to Los Angeles and worked as a counselor in a mental health agency for more than 15 years. However, in 2008, substance abuse caused him to be nearly homeless for a year.

After successfully completing a drug rehabilitation program he made contact with his sister Renee in Detroit, with whom he had not spoken in 26 years.

"I had to make sure it was really him when we spoke on the phone," Renee says. "So I asked him about his memories of my daughter Cassie. From what he said and the way he said it, I knew it was Coniel."

Norman moved in with Renee in Detroit for a few months and then moved into Piquette Square soon after the project opened in early June.

"I couldn't believe it when I got into Piquette Square," Norman told an audience of 500 people at the July 15 grand opening of Piquette Square for Veterans."Sometimes I still have a hard time believing that I'm here. But I thank God for it. The apartments are beautiful."

At that ceremony was Mayor David Bing, who played in the NBA against Norman almost 40 years ago. "All of us who live here are grateful for the generosity of all the people who made this building possible and who donated things to make us feel at home," Norman added. "It is my honor to thank you all from all the veterans at Piquette."

Anyone interested in providing assistance to Norman can e-mail his niece at cassienorman@hotmail.com.

See also: Sports Stars: From Homebuyers to Renters?

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