Tuesday, October 24, 2017     Volume: 31, Issue: 20
Signup

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 4th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 31

New Santa Maria housing project for veterans highlights nationally prevalent problem

By SPENCER COLE

For many veterans, life after the military can feel like an endless journey in search of a home. La Casa de Flores at 400 W. Church in Santa Maria aims to remedy that, one service member at a time.

On Sept. 22, the 2,400 square foot, corner lot house’s newest residents—more than a half dozen veterans—held a celebration to commemorate a project three years in the making.

“We noticed years ago that a lot of our veterans were returning from combat and they were getting arrested, they were getting involved with alcohol and drug abuse, and then we realized a lot of it was a result of service in the armed forces with things like PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder],” Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores told the Sun that morning.

Flores’ anecdote is arguably indicative of a problem found in streets, alleyways, and gutters across the country.

In 2016, there was an estimated 40,000 homeless veterans “on any given night” nationally, according to statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The number has stayed relatively static for years.

California bears the brunt of that population, with some 10,000 homeless veterans scattered throughout the state. Santa Barbara County, on the other hand, has a relatively small but stable population that hovers around 130 homeless veterans year to year (out of some 23,000 total veterans currently living in the county), according to a 10-year survey study started by HUD in 2007.

That consistency is significant, according to Chuck Flacks, executive director of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness in Santa Barbara.

“We are housing veterans at a fairly rapid rate, so what it means is that every veteran we house, we find another who’s homeless,” he explained. “What does that tell you? We know that the state of affairs for veterans coming out of the service is pretty grim for many of them and that there’s a high level of mental issues, substance abuse issues, and suicide—about 12 veterans nationally commit suicide daily.”

Flacks said his organization’s greatest concern was discharged veterans having access to enough resources to be independently functional members of society.

“It’s really a matter of linking services to these people and making sure they are aware of them,” he added. “But as to why [the population] stays so consistent and we can’t move the needle? I don’t have an answer for that.”

HUD, the Salvation Army, and Santa Barbara County Housing and Community Development did not return requests seeking comment for this story.

Back at the newly donated La Casa De Flores in Santa Maria on Sept. 22, the home’s and foundation’s namesake, Judge Flores, reflected on his years of work presiding over the city’s Veteran’s Treatment Court, which targets nonviolent veteran offenders and offers alternate pathways to rehabilitation.

“It’s a hard thing,” he said of the veterans’ transition from military to civilian life. “A while ago, a group of us came together and decided we can do better; we can help these veterans caught up in the criminal justice system.”

Flores said the work with the court paved the way for the private donation that led to the house’s founding. Fred Pratt, former Marine helicopter pilot and Vietnam War veteran, purchased the property. Pratt told the Sun that at its core, the remodeled house is a community project.

“Architects came in, and lawyers came in, and most of them donated, if not all, at least a portion of their services,” he said. “We really wanted to address the deplorable conditions that some of our veterans [are] subjected to.”

Pratt noted how some veterans hospitals are “just a nightmare,” and pointed to the high rate of veterans who commit suicide.

“These things going on are really community issues, and one of Judge Flores’ dreams was to provide a quality, clean-living place where our veterans who are on the street can get in, recover, and get back into mainstream society,” he said.

Casa de Flores Operations Manager Steven Baird is a former Marine with four years of service under his belt. He told the Sun that potential residents were vetted for fit in the home, chemistry with its residents, and if they were honorably discharged from service.

“We see a higher success rate,” Baird said of honorable discharges. “It seems like they are more likely to thrive and flourish once they get their feet back on the ground.”

The house has four bedrooms on its first floor, with space for eight veterans. The property also has two outbuildings, each equipped with a single bedroom and bath.

Pratt said there were plans to add an additional 650 square feet to the main building’s attic, which would bring the total bedroom count to eight.

“We are gonna fill this thing up,” he added.

According to Baird, the work is only beginning.

“This house is just a small fraction of what needs to be done here,” he said. “We have veterans out there every day pushing a shopping cart who need a home.”

Regardless of the reasons keeping discharged veterans homeless, Baird said that more programs are required to stem the tide.

Locals looking to help vets do have an upcoming opportunity in the annual Stand Down event on Oct. 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Santa Maria Fairpark, which offers veterans income support, mental health treatment, alcohol and drug counseling, dental work, haircuts, clothing, and job and housing services. Donations of new clothes and other items can be dropped off on Wednesdays through Oct. 18 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Fairpark.

“There are some services available, but we need more,” Baird said. “Communities, and this community, support all of their vets the best they can, the best way they know how to. So now it’s about spreading the word on what more can be done.

“It’s so much more than a, ‘Thank you for your service,’ or flying a flag on Fourth of July or Memorial Day,” he added.

Staff Writer Spencer Cole can be reached at scole@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
Where do you take the most photographs?

At the beach, sunset.
When out with friends, selfies!
With family, group shots for the memories.
At restaurants, of my food.

| Poll Results