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Homeless Veterans Outnumber Housing Available On Former Fort Ord

On the central coast, there are more homeless veterans than housing to serve them.  The Veterans Transition Center wants to change that.

Iraq War Veteran Jodi Hermundson looks like someone on the way to his office job.  He’s clean cut wearing a shirt and tie.

“You should see me about four months ago,” says Hermundson.  “You wouldn't want to talk to me. I looked miserable. I looked like something the cat drug in.”

Back then Hermundson was living in a tent not far from the ocean on the former Fort Ord.

“I was stationed here before, so I knew the area.   So I lived right here in a tent,” he says while walking  into a clearing he cut out in a bush.  “You know kind of keep it away from the street.  You know so people couldn’t see me,” he says.

Little did he know he set up camp just steps from the Veterans Transition Center in Marina.  The VTC offers all sorts of supportive services to homeless veterans from housing to job development. 

So the VTC helped Hermundson enroll in school and get sober.  He also moved into a duplex that he shares with other formerly homeless veterans.

Kurt Schake is Executive Director of the VTC.  He says these services work best when veterans aren’t living on the streets.

You get them off the street, then you deal with any addictive issues, with any emotional issues, with any medical issues psychological. We do all that in-house or we partner with the VA for extensive treatment if it needs to go beyond that,” says Schake.

But the Veterans Transition Center doesn’t have enough housing to help everyone.  The region’s veteran homeless population is a moving number.  At last count there were 110 in Monterey County alone.  The VTC is currently serving 76 local veterans plus their spouses and families for a total of 91 people.

“We have a wait list.  The wait list could be a week. It could be a year depending on the model they're trying to come into. We have men, women, families and so forth.  For all of those housing models, we have a wait list,” says Schake.

So the VTC is looking for ways to rapidly expand its housing.  Schake would like to have enough to serve around 200.

Amongst the existing duplexes the VTC owns on Hayes Circle on the former Fort Ord, they have a few more they can renovate. 

“All the housing that we can remodel to bring back online to house formerly homeless veterans, we're doing that.  But we're limited with the number of units that we have,” says Jack Murphy, VTC Deputy Director.

The VTC also has plans to build a $35-million apartment complex for low income veterans.  That project is still more than a year away from breaking ground.

So to get more housing quickly, they want to build a tiny house village. The idea is to start it as a pilot project to see how tiny houses can best serve veterans, whether it's for emergency shelter or something more permanent.

“It's economically feasible. We have the services available.  We have the utilities already on our street that we could tie into. We can't see why it's not the right thing to do,” says Murphy.

They envision a village of 10 homes.  They'll either be clustered together on empty land along Hayes Circle or as accessory dwelling units behind the existing duplexes.

Iraq War Veteran Jodi Hermundson sees a tiny house as a place he could live long term.

“First of all it's more affordable.  It’s easier to clean.  It's.. somebody that has PTSD. Have you ever heard of people being claustrophobic? Well some people want to be claustrophobic.  They want to be closed in,” says Hermundson.

The Veterans Transition Center is still ironing out the details of its proposed tiny house village. But because these homes can be built quickly, they hope to have it up and running by the end of the year.  

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.