Despite appearances, Richard most certainly does not wear a hat with a United States Marines insignia.
“Marines don’t wear hats. We wear covers,” he corrects with a serious smile.
Richard, who served as a field artillery specialist in the Marines from 1972-1976, is a formerly homeless vet — formerly homeless — but forever a Marine. He now has keys on a chain, photos on the walls, a bed to sleep in and a kitchen to cook in.
“Now I get my mail here, I hadn’t had an address in years,” Richard explains while sitting at his kitchen table in his nearly spotless Brooklyn Park apartment. Richard worked as an over-the-road truck driver for years, essentially living in his semi cab.
As an insulin-dependent diabetic with high blood pressure and no insurance, Richard could no longer drive, could no longer call the space behind the front seat of his rig home. Richard went from earning about $1,000 weekly to collecting a $677 Social Security check each month.
With no other place to go, he stayed in the shelter and Pay for Stay at Higher Ground Minneapolis and worked on his recovery at Mission Lodge.
Richard moved into his own apartment with help from Catholic Charities’ Case Manager John Robertson. It’s Robertson’s charge to get vets off of the streets and into homes, a job that keeps his phone ringing constantly. The demand for his services is high, resources limited.
As part of the Ending Veterans Homelessness Work Group, Catholic Charities partners with other agencies to create and share a homeless vets registry and get vets out of shelters and into homes.
This summer, there were 500 veterans added to the registry. Of them, 310 were placed into permanent homes. With support and positive relationships between clients and staff, the program is working.
“I know I have to do right by John because he does right by me,” Richard says. While John is available for support, Richard must take responsibility and live independently.
At his apartment, Richard is responsible for managing his finances and keeping a clean home as he works toward independence.
“My life is better now than it was out there,” he said. “My name is on this place. I have keys in my pocket. I have a strong desire to be independent and work and make my own way.”