Rickie Yokum, Army Veteran and Resident
“We owe these folks a debt,” says Nevada Rural Housing Authority (NRHA) Deputy Director Bill Brewer, speaking of the veterans who’ve found a home at Richard’s Crossing, an affordable housing complex in Carson City, NV. “And life gets a lot easier when you have a place to sleep, to eat, and shower. That’s just critical to have, before counseling, or job training, or whatever else folks may need.” Eight of the complex’s 39 units are reserved for veterans, but currently 15 of the residents, all of whom are supported by project-based vouchers, are veterans.
This “Spotlight” article appears in FHL Bank of San Francisco’s February newsletter
Rickie Yokum, a 68-year-old disabled Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, had not been using many of the services available from the Veteran’s Administration, except for medical. “I’d go in there and think the other guys I see here, they need to go ahead of me.” But it’s because of the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program that he was able to secure one of the units reserved for formerly homeless veterans at Richard’s Crossing.
Rickie found himself with no place to live after discovering that the roommate he shared an apartment with in Carson City had not been paying the rent. He had just four days to find other accommodations. After tapping out his savings staying in a motel for six months, he found a card in his wallet for the local Veterans Resource Center (VRC), a private organization that fills a critical gap on the ground for an over-stretched VA. The VRC put him up for a while at a hotel, then suggested he apply for housing at Richard’s Crossing.
“It’s a secure place to live – that’s a big deal,” Rickie says. “I know what the next day, the next week, the next month, holds for me.” The stable, affordable housing situation at Richard’s Crossing helps him provide support to his girlfriend, who’s battling breast cancer. “We’re not rich, but we don’t have to eat Top Ramen every day of the week.” And there’s room for Bumpers, the dog. Adopting Bumpers two and a half years ago is one of the better decisions he’s ever made, Rickie says.
Greg Robertson, 59, also has high hopes for how the housing stability at Richard’s Crossing might help him overcome some self-destructive tendencies. He served in the National Guard for 3 years, back in the 1980’s, in peacetime. But he didn’t have a lot of schooling and spent a lot of time bouncing around after his service. “I was in a tent down the street from here,” he says. “My MO is to build myself up, and then tear myself down. I’m hoping that by being here I can get over that, and be more stable.”
Anita Dollinger’s husband Phil, a Navy vet, is also contending with serious health issues and making frequent trips to the VA hospital in Reno. “We’ve been technically homeless for the last five years,” she says. “Our last hotel was old, dirty, bug-infested. We came here and took a tour and we were just amazed.” The couple is very appreciative of all the services and resources they are able to access at Richard’s Crossing as they consider the options for treating Phil’s heart issues.
But as far as Anita is concerned, the best and most surprising thing about moving into Richard’s Crossing was that their apartment came fully stocked. “Toaster, microwave, dishes, pots and pans, cleaning supplies!” she exclaims. “I don’t know who had the initiative to get this stuff for us.”
The “who” Anita is referring to is the Carson City community. The household supplies that mean so much to her arrived at the complex in the same way the property’s cozy second floor library got set up – on the initiative of members of the community who have taken it upon themselves to help. Heather Simola, Real Property Administrator for NRHA, explains that she went to Browser’s Corner, a used bookstore, prepared to buy books for the library, but didn’t have to spend any money there. “The next day the manager was here with boxes and boxes,” she says. “They just handle it. It’s that human part, a random act of kindness.” Someone from the shop visits regularly not just to replenish the stock, but to shelve and alphabetize the growing book collection.
Other community contributions include the framed photos that line the hallways, created and donated by a local high school photography class, plants donated by the school’s cooperative extension horticulture program, food for the pantry – not just for people but for pets, too – donated by shops. At Christmastime, local groups got together to provide Christmas stockings and a handmade quilt for every household. “One of my favorite things about this property is that we have had no NIMBYism at all, not one call from neighbors asking why we were putting this here,” says Bill Brewer. “It’s just remarkable how the community has adopted us.”
The community’s generosity is not lost on Rickie Hokum. “Being here makes me want to give something back, to help someone else out,” he says, “Because I’ve certainly gotten my fair share of help.” He’d like to work a little, but not full-time. Job training and other supportive services are offered at the property in collaboration with the local Friend in Service Helping organization.
Richard’s Crossing complex is the first project of its kind in rural Nevada, and received a $390,000 AHP grant through member Charles Schwab Bank. According to Beth Dunning, Business Administrator, Community Development Group at NRHA, the project was over budget because of high construction costs, and the AHP grant was critically important to helping them make up the deficit. “Charles Schwab Bank has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco,” said Michael Soloman, Vice President, Community Development Group. “We welcome the opportunity to support effective projects like Richards Crossing that address specific housing challenges in our community.”
Being able to serve veterans means a lot to everyone at NRHA, but especially to Scott Kelley, the organization’s PR director, who is also a veteran. “Veterans are a very proud group of people,” Scott says. “After some of the traumatic experiences they’ve had, it’s hard to come back into civilian life. We’re filling a need as much as we can, and that feels great.”
But Richard’s Crossing is not just for veterans. The need for safe, decent, affordable housing in Carson City is huge across the board. “We have a mom with two children, we have couples and singles, and there’s 2-year-old Bella, who plays the role of a surrogate grandchild for those who have none. Plus a gentleman with a wheel chair who just celebrated his 90th birthday – he was living in a van before he got here,” Heather says. “So we change all kinds of lives.”