Colma’s Veterans Village Offers New Life For Homeless Servicemen and Women

Posted on: October 21, 2019

Colma’s Veterans Village offers new life for homeless servicemen and women

Marine Corps veteran James Nelson III was disabled in the Vietnam War and spent much of the last decade living in shelters, motels or the streets until he moved into Veterans Village. (Photos by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

October 21, 2019
Christina Gray

Navy veteran Carl Moisoff takes pride in his neat, one-bedroom apartment at the newly opened Veterans Village in Colma.

“I was the very first one accepted here because I had my paperwork all in order,” Moisoff told Catholic San Francisco on Oct. 17. He moved in when the complex opened on Aug. 15. “I’m so grateful.”

It’s a far cry from the car he lived in for seven years after an injury and a series of family tragedies left him disabled, destitute and depressed.

Moisoff’s unit has a peaceful view of a duck pond and the landscaped hills of Holy Cross Cemetery, a visual reminder of the cemetery’s role in his new circumstances.

Veterans Village was built on a triangular wedge of land owned by the cemetery, which leased it to Mercy Housing to support homeless veterans.

“It was definitely an underused piece of property,” said cemetery director Monica Williams, who attended a dedication in the village courtyard Oct. 8 with the individuals and agencies that made Veterans Village possible, including the new residents.

Father Stephen Howell led the dedication.

Williams said the city of Colma approached the cemetery in 2013 about the land as a site for the construction of new affordable housing units. The cemetery was agreeable, she said, in part because the site just outside the cemetery entrance which housed old pumps and wells, “wasn’t that useful to the cemetery.”

A multi-agency partnership was developed between Holy Cross, Mercy Housing, the city of Colma, San Mateo County and the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs to build Veterans Village.

The village features 66 units of affordable and supportive housing for homeless military veterans, many with disabilities and ranging in age from their mid-30s to their late-60s.

Comprehensive case management and supportive services are provided onsite by the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System and Brilliant Corners, a nonprofit agency that serves veterans and others transitioning from homelessness.

“We focus most of our time on the corporal work of mercy of burying our dead,” said Williams. “But this is a corporal work of mercy too.”

“I was wandering the streets,” said Larry Shapiro, who served in the Air Force from 1958-1965. He lost and eye and part of both legs in an airplane accident.

He was thrilled to find his unit had a long galley-style kitchen he could navigate easily in his wheelchair.

Decades after a catastrophic head injury abbreviated his Marine Corps service during the Vietnam War, James Nelson III retains his military bearing. He said he “became a drunk” after his honorable discharge and for the last five years has been homeless.

“I’ve been living in shelters and motels for years,” he said. “So I’m blessed with what we have here.”

Navy veteran Belinda Payne said a wide variety of past traumas is what she and many of her Veterans Village neighbors have in common.

She described how a sexual assault in the military decades ago wreaked havoc in her life and eventually led to crippling anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse and eventual homelessness. Her teenage son lives with her at Veterans Village.

“The blessing about being here is that I can just put the horrible experiences in a box over there and begin to move on,” she said.

Navy veteran Belinda Payne and her teenage son were homeless before they were accepted at Veterans Village.

Navy veteran Carl Moisoff is pictured in his apartment at Veterans Village in Colma, a newly opened project for homeless veterans run by Mercy Housing on land leased from Holy Cross Cemetery. Moisoff had lived in his car for seven years before moving in Aug. 15.

Air Force veteran Larry Shapiro lost an eye and a leg in an airplane accident.

 

Source: Catholic San Francisco

Posted in: News


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