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James Ellis spent years living in the woods or on the road before reaching out for help in overcoming homelessness. After leaving transitional housing, his body was found in Atlanta in January, the victim of an apparent homicide.

For James “Jimmy” Ellis of Woodstock, stability came only during his four years in the Army.

During middle school, he told people, he first sought refuge from an unhappy home life by running away and living in the woods. After leaving the Army in 2003, he lived in the woods again after struggling with adjusting to post-military life.

In January, his body was found in an alley in Atlanta with a gunshot wound, said Jim Lindenmayer, founder of the Cherokee Homeless Veterans Program.

Before his death, Ellis had left transitional housing with the Veterans Empowerment Organization in Atlanta last fall to return to the outdoors. 

“James was friend of mine,” said Tyler Bowser, a development officer for VEO. “He was living here, I think about 6 to 9 months and worked in the security office.”

Ellis approached his colleagues and told them he still wanted to work at VEO, but wanted to live on his own. Bowser said Ellis established a campsite near a cemetery to live.

Now local veterans groups are making arrangements to bury Jimmy Ellis with full military honors in the Georgia National Cemetery west of Canton, Lindenmayer said.

Ellis' body was returned home on Friday, taken in by Poole Funeral Home in Woodstock. Founder Brian Poole said his business will handle all the arrangements free of charge, the second time it has done so for a local homeless veteran.

"It's an honor to be able to do this for him," Poole said Friday.

Poole, Lindenmayer and advocates for homeless veterans are working to make arrangements for Ellis' interment at the national cemetery.

Cherokee Homeless Veterans worked with Ellis in 2018 to help him get back on his feet, connecting him with VEO which provided him a job and a place to live.

“Before I came here, I didn’t know what to do to make progress or move forward in life,” Ellis told The Tribune in 2018 after moving into housing at VEO. “Here I’m not the crazy Army guy in the woods – I’m another veteran.”

A graveside service has been set for Ellis at noon on June 10 at the Georgia National Cemetery, 1080 Scott Hudgens Drive, Canton.

Managing Editor

Gary Tanner is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune, Cherokee Ledger-News and Cherokee Life magazine. He has been working as a journalist since 1985.

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