Shelter for homeless veterans shuts down

December 14, 2011 7:36:15 PM PST
A highly-successful program on the Peninsula is shutting its doors after helping thousands of down and out veterans over the past decade.

Wednesday was a busy day and an emotional one for the residents of the Homeless Veterans Emergency Facility. Most of them have left, but 13 veterans remain and they will be bused to other shelters on Thursday.

For many of them, the closure of the center felt like the breakup of a very close-knit family.

It will be anything but a happy holiday for the 150 veterans who are being forced to leave what they call their home. Norma Gabut, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, was one of them.

"Coming over here was like a family, you know?" Gabut said. "I'm sorry if I tear up, but it's true. Most Vietnam veterans were never welcomed home, and this place welcomed us back with open arms."

In its 11 year history, 7,000 people have passed through the doors of the Homeless Veterans Emergency Facility in Menlo Park. The veterans rebuilt their lives, escaped from addiction and found jobs.

"I went from a falling-down drunkard on the street to living in a house now with a job and a car and a bank account," said 28-year-old Navy veteran Eric Crowell.

Their building will be demolished because it is seismically unsafe. The Veterans Administration, which owns the building, has extended the eviction deadline numerous times over the past several years.

"When we issued the notice of closure, we made a promise that no one would be on the street," said program director Kate Severin. "We have been able to live up to that."

Many worry that, without each other's support and the safety of the facility, they may once again slide into the dark side.

"Everyone here is a veteran," said Air Force veteran Les Herrick. "In these other places, not everyone is a veteran. There are people using, and that's the big difference. Here, it's like a little family."

Irvin Goodwin is a former homeless veteran who started the shelter, partnering with the VA which provided the building and grant money. Goodwin says there's still hope his former residents will reunite under one roof.

Goodwin is speaking with the owner of another building on the Peninsula, which he would like to lease.

"I found a new facility," said Goodwin. "We're very happy about that. We could house 200 veterans in the new facility."

Goodwin says it's still too early in the negotiation process for him to say they could get the new facility, but he is hopeful and it would be a wonderful Christmas present if he could seal the deal.


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