Sitting on a park bench speaking to a television reporter in a Sacramento suburb, pride and despair flickered back and forth through Clifford and Gary’s eyes like a broken film reel. Ramrod straight postures equal to their military service yawned and slouched as they guided viewers through their journey into homelessness. Once proud men, chock full of stories and antics from a life well lived, were nearly broken. Hope was not lost, but it was fleeting.
The camera in front of them seemed to be their last resort. Just a few days earlier it had captured a story that warmed the heart of their community; proud, educated men, who fell victim to predatory mortgage lending and a foreclosed family home. Staying with friends gave way to sleeping in a car. Days were split between long walks, medical appointments at the Veterans Affairs Hospital, and researching ways to get their home back at the Fair Oaks Library.
Throttled shoes and a pair of slippers covered their feet. Thrift store clothes that sang red, white, and blue hung on their wire thin frames. American flag hats with aviator glasses shielded their tears.
Upon hearing their story, the community responded. Everyday people donated to a Go-Fund me account established to provide the brothers with support. A lawyer volunteered his services pro-bono. The VA, long the brothers healthcare provider, called on Sacramento Steps Forward for help seek housing solutions, quickly.
Once deployed, a member of the Sacramento Steps Forward Field Team set to work with the brothers on the park bench. The three men quickly warmed to each other and small talk transitioned to a strategic process of phased engagement, where unsubsidized and subsidized housing options are weighed and measured to find a housing solution unique to each situation.
A few phone calls later Logan Park Apartments, long friendly to Sacramento Steps Forward, opened their doors allowing the brothers to be housed within days of our first meeting. From there, the Field Team worked with the VA team to qualify the brothers for a HUD-VASH voucher, which combines rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs at its medical centers and in the community. Volunteers of America and the Sacramento Veterans Resource Center rounded the effort out with beds and supplies for the new apartment.
Months later, their new apartment has all the trappings of home, including an array of funny knick knacks purchased at thrift stores and garage stores along the way. The heater blasts, keeping their trademark wire thin frames warm. They visit the apartment office daily, welcomed by staff who love hearing a mix of life stories and tall tales, followed by a couple of jokes. And of course they still walk, miles and miles per day, staying fit and keeping an eye on their community, together.
Despair was vanquished and their pride remains. Hope and dignity were restored. Their cycle of homelessness was over.
Clifford and Gary are home.