pe.com | July 17, 2015 –
The Riverside apartment David Oakley shares with his girlfriend and their gray cat, Mittens, is a modest one-bedroom with a cramped kitchen, donated furniture and a few framed prints on its off-white walls.
But it’s home, and Oakley is grateful for it.
Before he moved into the apartment seven months ago, Oakley, a 51-year-old National Guard veteran, was homeless for about two years.
Having his own place is “like it used to be, it’s the way it should be,” he said, then added, “It’s kind of, to be honest, like a dream come true.”
Oakley is one of several military veterans helped by an ambitious Riverside program that aims to house all of the city’s homeless veterans by the end of this year.
So far, the program, backed by Mayor William “Rusty” Bailey, has found homes for 11 veterans. It has 21 more veterans linked with caseworkers to help them apply for benefits and find jobs and apartments.
“It’s inexcusable in my mind to have homeless veterans,” said Bailey, a West Point graduate and Army veteran. “(With) 200,000 veterans in the two-county (Inland) region, we need to lead by example and to take care of our troops.”
Housing homeless veterans can come with challenges, as seen in the cases of Oakley and of Robert Bailey, a veteran of the Army and Marines who is waiting for housing.
Bailey, who is not related to the mayor, is 54 and originally from Chicago. He came to Riverside in 1998 with his wife, but they separated and he went out on his own. About four years ago, he was living in a crowded home in Rubidoux when the man who collected the rent – and also lived there – quit paying the mortgage. The bank foreclosed on the house.
Robert Bailey went to Riverside’s homeless shelter and got help in finding an apartment, but he said he got evicted over late fees and back rent, then spent 18 months in jail under a plea deal for an assault charge. When he was released, he returned to the shelter.
With a past eviction and a criminal record, it’s been hard for Bailey to find a place to live.
That’s where Mark Houck, an outreach specialist at the Riverside Access Center, is able to help.
The city-funded Access Center offers services for the homeless, including medical and mental health care, life skills training and housing placement.
Houck works to build relationships with landlords, reassuring them that his clients have a government voucher or another way to pay rent, and that an advocate like him will be a reliable resource.