Veterans Welcomed at Home Front Apartments
by Alicia Robinson
The Press Enterprise
March 20, 2016
RIVERSIDE, Calif.They didn’t have any furniture when they moved into their new Riverside home, but Marine veteran Gilbert Olmos and his family were happy just to get the keys.
Before he signed a lease March 8 for a three-bedroom apartment, Olmos, 63, and his wife, their daughter and her two children had been living in their car for almost two years.
Now they have a roof over their head at Home Front at Camp Anza, a 30-unit community next to the Arlanza library that was built for low-income, disabled veterans and their families. The development was built on a former Army facility from World War II.
“You walk in and it’s all new. We’re used to older homes,” Gilbert’s wife, Lydia, 62, said.
Her husband choked up when asked how it felt to open the door to his new home for the first time.
“On the drive down here, it’s like coming home,” Lydia Olmos said.
MEETING A NEED
Contractors for San Diego developer Wakeland Housing and Development Corp. are putting final touches on the project. Veterans began moving in this month.
The community’s name comes from the former Camp Anza, a World War II troop staging area that once occupied part of the neighborhood. The old officers club that fell into disrepair and sat unused for years was renovated and will be the centerpiece of the development.
The club was remade as a community building that features a kitchen, gathering spaces and a computer lab, Wakeland Project Manager David Hetherington said. Also on site: a fitness room, small lap pool and community vegetable garden.
“We’re just very excited that we’re about to open the doors and serve this community that’s done so much to serve the country,” Hetherington said.
Santa Ana-based Mercy House will offer residents case management and help coordinate therapy and medical services. Mercy House helps move about 900 people a year from homelessness to permanent housing.
All 30 units at the Picker Street development are full. Tenants must meet one or more criteria such as being a veteran, being disabled and must live in Riverside.
Besides focusing on veterans’ needs, “We also want to have special emphasis on the kids as well” by offering tutoring and after-school
and recreation programs, Mercy House Executive Director Larry Haynes said.
He understands the needs in the neighborhood, he said, because he grew up there.
When it comes to housing disabled veterans, the needs are also great, said Eddie Estrada, executive director ofthe Inland Empire division of U.S. VETS. The nonprofit organization, which provides veterans with housing and other services, referred some of its clients to the Camp Anza project.
Of the roughly 259,000 veterans living in the Inland area, Estrada said, about 10 percent are “one paycheck away from being on the streets.”
Some veterans leaving the service have trouble finding jobs, in some cases because they’re also dealing with post-traumatic stress, combat trauma and other issues, Estrada said. Projects such as Home Front at Camp Anza and March Veterans Village, a 200-bed project U.S. VETS is building at March Air Reserve Base, are important, he said, but “It’s not even making a dent as far as the need.”
DAY BY DAY
For Gilbert Olmos, the new home is a chance to start over. After enlisting in the Marines and serving from 1972 to 1974, according to military records, he was discharged. He married Lydia and started a family, which includes five sons and their daughter.
A Los Angeles native, he went to college and later worked as a salesman in pest control and then mortgage lending. But he lost his job and got sick, and after triple-bypass heart surgery and kidney failure, he’s unable to work.
“I’m just basically living day by day,” Gilbert Olmos said.
Lydia Olmos had trouble finding work because she was taking care of him, and they lost their home. She said it hurt her sons to see their parents homeless, but they’re all renters with families to look after.
They avoided going to a shelter because they feared being separated, and among paying for food, occasional motel rooms and Gilbert Olmos’ medical needs, his disability checks weren’tenough for them to live on, Lydia Olmos said.
Now Gilbert Olmos will be living among other veterans, and his grandson, Jeriko, 7, has his own room.
Gilbert Olmos said he’s happy to see the government living up to its promises to help those who have served their country.
In spite of his health issues, he said, “I’m glad to be here and I’m hoping to share some good months and years before anything happens to me.”