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Marin nonprofit opens apartments for homeless veterans

Marin Independent Journal - 6/15/2024

Jun. 15—A nonprofit that envisions zero veteran homelessness in Marin County has taken a step toward that goal.

Homeward Bound of Marin held an opening celebration Thursday for Puett Place, a 24-apartment complex in Novato. Every apartment in the two-story building will be reserved for a homeless veteran at a site that's built on the former grounds of the decommissioned Hamilton Field Air Force Base.

"These new homes will be a beacon of hope for veterans," said Mary Kay Sweeney, a Homeward Bound leader. "It will honor their service to our community and our country."

She said there's no better place for the veterans housing than at a former military base.

Marin County Supervisor Eric Lucan said 28 veterans in the county are unhoused.

"Twenty-four units are coming onboard right now," he said at the event. "You do the math. We have almost completely solved it to a functional zero. Let's keep going."

The 50-year-old nonprofit provides housing assistance and other support to Marin's homeless residents. The organization served 52 veterans in its programs last year, the nonprofit reported.

Paul Fordham, another Homeward Bound leader, spoke during a tour of Marin's first supportive housing development dedicated to veterans about the goal of reaching zero veteran homelessness in the county.

"If we're able to reach zero shortly after opening this building, it would be a huge statement, and we would be the only county in California to reach zero," Fordham said. "We're not there yet."

Finishing touches are being done on the veterans' apartments. Tenants are set to move into the complex in August.

Residents will pay no more than a third of their income in rent, and the revenue will pay for the housing's operating costs, Fordham said. Housing will be offered to applicants who are low-income and homeless veterans in Marin County, he said.

Puett Place is named after Homeward Bound's board president, Bob Puett, whose son Beau served as a U.S. Navy Seal.

Several apartments in the complex are named after donors such as the Rotary Clubs of Marin County, the Marin Association of Realtors and the family foundation of Marin rock musician Sammy Hagar, who had an apartment dedicated to his World War II veteran father, Robert.

Each apartment includes a furnished bedroom, a kitchen and a living room. Half of the apartments are accessible for people with disabilities. The Homeward Bound staff also will offer daily meals to tenants.

"We want to create a place that we'd be happy to live in," Fordham said.

Puett Place is a part of a $36 million construction project that includes a 26-apartment complex for employed people who are homeless and a job training center that neighbors Homeward Bound's office. The project site is on city-owned land at North Hamilton Parkway in Novato.

Novato Mayor Mark Milberg said ending veteran homelessness is a top goal for his city and the county.

"To our new residents, welcome to Novato," he said during the event.

A combination of private donations as well as state, federal and county funding backed the project, which was approved by the City Council without opposition.

In January, the county and Homeward Bound jointly received a $14.4 million Homekey grant from the state for the veterans housing and job training center projects. Other funding sources included $2.2 million from the Marin Community Foundation, $2 million from the county and a $4 million allocation from the state budget, according to Homeward Bound.

Fordham said the majority of the homeless veterans served by Homeward Bound are seniors.

Jack Gobetti, an U.S. Army veteran discharged in the 1970s, toured one of the new apartments and wanted to move in. He lived in a motorhome in Napa until he heard about the housing offered at Homeward Bound's New Beginnings transitional housing center.

"I've been promised housing for eight years and nobody came through," Gobbetti said about his experiences with the Veterans Administration. "It finally came through."

New Beginnings resident and Army veteran George Phelps, 77, said he rented a room in Terra Linda for several years and later lived in a motel and in his car before coming to New Beginnings. He credited Homeward Bound's case workers for helping him get his life on track. Phelps wants to move into the new veterans housing.

"I'm getting tired of staying in a room where everyone is snoring and waking up and yawning," he said.

During the event, Fordham recalled giving a veteran a tour of an apartment at Puett Place.

"He said, 'I can live here?'" Fordham said. "Yeah, that's why we built it."


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