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It took a village to change the life of a homeless veteran

It takes a village

It often takes a village to give someone a new lease on life. This is the story of how Mission Viejo Police Services, Mercy House, City staff, a local church and others band together to help a United States veteran find a home.  This is the story of 85-year-old Vern – who bravely served our country for nearly two decades – 1960 to 1987 – and had been living in his 1970 VW van for the last 10 years.  Vern served in the Navy, National Guard and Army Reserve. He enlisted in the Army, earned the rank of Sergeant First Class and fought in the Vietnam War. Photos of his service etched the inside of the van as did one of his military uniforms that hung from a hanger in the front seat.

It was Quality of Life Deputy Dana Chaney who first met Vern parked in a dirt lot in March of 2018. She learned of his life of service and how it turned into a life of solitude. He lived in an old rusted van filled with clothing, food and blankets. She asked him if he was interested in outreach services and he said he was interested in housing assistance.

“I thanked Vern for speaking with me and before I left, I gave him a hygiene kit and warm socks,” she said.

Deputy Chaney contacted the Veterans Administration (VA) in Orange County for help.  After months of following up with Vern, she learned he had a friend/caregiver who would often stay with him in his van. She was homeless, too. Her family lived close by but didn’t have room for her in their tiny apartment. It was around this time that the City began contracting with Mercy House, a nonprofit providing housing and supportive services for homeless populations. Mercy House’s new street outreach coordinator Detrice began working with Deputy Chaney to help Vern and his caregiver.  Staff from the Presbyterian Church of the Master also stepped up. They towed Vern’s bus to their lot and helped him find a buyer. They then helped him purchase another vehicle.

Several more months passed and Deputy Chaney and Detrice continued their outreach with Vern and his caregiver who were eventually approved for a housing voucher through the VA. In September, the VA found a match for the homeless pair, a two-bedroom apartment. They recently moved into their new home, which will be furnished with beds and other furniture by local businesses tapped by City staff through donations. Other organizations also lent a hand – Mission Viejo Police Foundation and Patriots and Paws – to turn the lives of Vern and his caregiver around. Vern allowed us to share his story to show his appreciation for our group effort and to bring awareness that many who are experiencing homelessness have a unique story.

“We all worked diligently to get Vern and his caregiver the assistance they deserved,” said Lieutenant Quyen Vuong. “Outreach is not as simple as driving someone to a shelter or providing them food and clothing.  It’s about building trust, relationships and following through on commitments.  We look for long-term solutions to end homelessness for each person we help.  It took a lot of time, effort and the partnerships of many to make this story’s ending happy.”

If you’re a veteran facing homelessness, there are resources that can help. Visit this link to get started.

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