Helping veterans find vocations

FRESNO, Calif.

Veterans of the post-9/11 military are finding big barriers as they try seek work in civilian society.

Many of them are even finding themselves homeless, but Valley veterans are taking a big step towards independence.

When all the plaster is mixed, and all the tiles are laid, this apartment will be home to a couple Valley veterans.

The Veteran's Plaza apartment complex is a place for homeless veterans transitioning to more productive civilian lives.

Its first resident is Richard Barnes, who gave us a tour of his new home.

Barnes left the Marines in 1981, had his own apartment for about a year, then never again until this January.

"The day I moved in here on a Friday afternoon," Barnes said. "That weekend it rained for three days. I mean, torrential rain."

The apartment has kept Barnes dry and, two months in, still amazes him.

"I've never seen anything like this before...slam proof [cabinets]," he said.

Perhaps more importantly, it's given his life purpose.

Barnes also showed off his home to Congressman Jeff Denham -- the first politician he's ever met.

The Merced Republican saw the air mattress where Barnes sleeps, and the sitting chair usually reserved for his dog, baby girl.

But he also saw the path to a better life for struggling veterans.

"His life has been changed," Denham said. "He's no longer on the streets and that type of pride is going to infect everybody else here."

Denham is himself an Air Force veteran and he's pushed on Capitol Hill to improve the lot of his fellow veterans, especially those coming home from recent deployments.

Post-9/11 veterans have an unemployment rate of more than 17 percent, twice as high as the general population.

Denham said 76,000 veterans are homeless and places like this apartment complex are a springboard to work.

"It's hard to find a job," he said. "It's hard to get the training you need to get into a career field if you don't even have a home to come home to."

By early May, 28 veterans could be living here with Barnes as their house manager, and hopefully, their job coach as well.

SJVV (San Joaquin Valley Veterans, a project of WestCare) is in charge of the apartment complex. They're still in need of donations to furnish the apartments – all sorts of furniture is useful, but especially beds. If you would like to donate, call SJVV at 559-255-8838

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