SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
Handyman and Vietnam War veteran Chuck Oglesby works all he can and stays away from drugs and alcohol. He also is homeless.
“A lot of veterans housing is designed for guys with substance-abuse problems. Guys like me, who just can’t make enough for rent, tend to fall through the cracks,” he said.
The high number of veterans like Oglesby led the Regional Housing Alliance of La Plata County and the Volunteers of America to team up on a project to provide affordable housing for Durango’s low-income military veterans.
Last year, the Durango Community Shelter served 555 people, and 17 percent of them were veterans, said Volunteers of America division director Sarada Leavenworth. Many of those veterans, like many of her homeless clients, have jobs. They simply cannot afford Durango-area rents.
Both Leavenworth and Regional Housing Alliance Executive Director Jennifer Lopez emphasize the project is in its very early “talking and looking” stage. They will discuss their idea with the City Council at some point this month.
“We’re looking around for a piece of land that the city or someone might be willing to give us,” Lopez said. “The only way we could afford this project is if someone gave us the land.”
Lopez believes an affordable-land crisis in Durango is intertwined with the affordable-housing crisis hitting residents with modest incomes. Her dream for veterans’ housing is a group of handicapped-accessible apartments or bungalows near a bus line so veterans without a car could still get to their jobs and the Veteran Affairs Center.
Many of those who could be helped have stories similar to Oglesby, who had an apartment manager’s job in Fort Collins but was hoping to find a quieter, less-congested town.
He took a residential manager’s job at a faith-based rehabilitation center in Del Norte. Then the 2008 recession hit. The grants and church funding for the center dried up rapidly, and the center closed last year. He loaded his car and drove to Durango, seeking a job.
“I could find temporary work, but not enough to pay monthly rent,” Oglesby said. “When the registration stickers on my car expired, my car was towed. I never saw it again. I couldn’t afford a cellphone anymore. You feel so cut off from the world without a phone, a car or a home.”
To go on food stamps, he was required to do community service. He sweeps, mops, cooks and sets tables at Manna Soup Kitchen, which he said he loves. He uses the showers there so he can look presentable for job interviews. For the next month, he has a house-painting job in Cortez. His boss is giving him a mobile home to use until the job is done.
After that, he will be living outdoors again – padding his sleeping bag with blankets when winter comes.
Despite the obstacles, Volunteers of America and the Regional Housing Alliance are hopeful they can one day provide homes for veterans like Oglesby.
They’re heartened by a recent Volunteers of America success story in Denver. This May, the Volunteers of America helped HomeAid Colorado, a nonprofit that builds quality housing for the homeless, complete a home that can hold as many as five female veterans and their children. It will be the first of three Volunteers of America housing projects for homeless veterans the agency will build there.