For nurse Fritzie Pascual, there was one veteran in particular who touched her heart. She was working in a medical respite center one day when a sick veteran told her “Please don’t let me die a homeless man.”
Moved to action, she was able to find a home for the man. However, he was too sick to move into the home, and In an appeal for compassion Pascual asked the homeowners to let her give him the key.
They did, and with the key to his own home in his hand, the veteran died.
That experience made Pascual want to do more for the older generation of homeless veterans, and when an opportunity arose to bid for a
contract to provide transitional housing to veterans 60 and older, she didn’t hesitate.
“It had been on my mind, and when the VA came up with a program, I thought ‘this is great!’ It’s a perfect fit.”
She turned to her friend and co-worker Kris Timo, who worked with her at another VA-contracted center providing medical respite — a place where homeless veterans can recuperate from medical issues and receive assistance finding long-term housing. They decided to bid for the contract.
Thus, Compassion Residio Services was born. The single-family home will provide temporary housing for older veterans just being released from VA medical care. It’s the first contract of its kind, Pascual said. The home will accommodate both men and women.
“We’ll accept both female to male, or whatever sex they identify. Either way, we have a place for you,” Pascual said.
They are hoping that by Jan. 1 the first veterans will be able to move into the home. The approximately 2,000-square-foot home sits on a five-acre lot adjacent to a vineyard on the southern outskirts of Lodi. There is room for horses outside. Inside the front door, the home opens up into an open living room with a kitchen, and located down the hallway is one of two bedrooms for the veterans. Another larger bedroom on the opposite side of the house can accommodate up to five people. There is also an office for Pascual, and living quarters for her upstairs.
The home will provide around-the-clock services for the veterans, who may be suffering from medical and age-related issues.
“We wanted it to be a welcoming, pleasant place for a geriatric population. People who were released from hospitals, VA hospitals in particular, who are homeless and have ongoing medical concerns in some cases, and we can help with that,” fellow founder Craig Mosher said.
“We found this wonderful place,“ Pascual said, adding that they would like to provide a homey feel.
They envision gardening in the backyard, and the five acres provide a place to meander. They also envision a place for art and animal therapy.
“It’s quiet. It’s going to bring them back home, that homey feeling they missed. So it’s easier to reform their mind to say ‘I’m going to go back home,’ ” Pascual said.
“We just want to make it a pleasant, comfortable, supportive place for people,” Mosher added.
Pascual wants to avoid the sense of institutionalization that a regular shelter can bring.
“They have been on the streets for so long, and they have been in and out of shelters and nothing has changed. So this is what we have come up with. It’s a novel, creative way to provide housing,” Pascual said.
The four founders are all from Santa Clara County, and program manager and nurse Pascual is the one who will relocate to Lodi to run the home. The others will travel in on the weekends and provide support in other ways, depending on their roles.
Mosher, who is responsible for grants and development, works as a college instructor at Cabrillo College.
Antony Martinez, who does site management, works for a semiconductor company.
Timo, who will serve as treasurer and provide case management for the veterans, works at Abode Services assisting veterans and civilians getting into long-term housing in Santa Clara County.
Pascual welcomes any local organizations or volunteers who would like to provide enrichment services to the veterans.
Timo is himself a veteran, and he uses his own personal experience to help build a connection with the veterans he serves.
“Most of the veterans we work with are Vietnam vets who have combat experience. I can relate to them, share my experience. Some have PTSD, some have nightmares. I feel comfortable when I talk to someone who went through my kind of experience,” Timo said. “I tell them everything is possible. There is counseling out there for you and services available to you, all you have to do is tap into it.”
Timo said it’s helpful for the veterans to have someone with similar military experience to tell them counseling is available.
“They don’t know how to tap into their benefits. So it’s my job to walk them through the process. And sometimes veterans are so proud, they don’t want it handed down. I say this is not a hand-me down, you’re entitled to it.”