Home at last
Vets’ circuitous paths through homelessness meet in new permanent homes.
By Doug Smith / Photography by Allen J. Schaben MAY 25, 2017
For Kenneth Salazar, the past came back as a series of scenes in a fractured chronology.
Life after the Army had been one of dead-end jobs and episodes of sleeping in cars, each coming to an end when the vehicle was impounded.
“I woke up in a motor vehicle in other people’s driveway wondering, ‘What in the hell am I doing here?’ ” Salazar said.
Most recently, he was sleeping in a park when an outreach worker got him to go to the Courtyard, a shelter that opened last year in the former Santa Ana bus terminal. There he slept on a mat.
That turned out to be a steppingstone out of his past. For the first time since his discharge, Salazar, 60, now has a permanent home that cannot be impounded.
Salazar was one of 15 homeless men — almost all veterans — selected to move into Potter’s Lane, a pioneering housing project built from recycled shipping containers. Salazar will pay $69 a month for his single unit. The balance of the $1,259 monthly rent will be subsidized.
Potter’s Lane is an example of permanent supportive housing — subsidized apartments with services to provide the support that the chronically homeless need to adjust to life under a roof. It was funded with a combination of low-interest government and private loans and will be supported by subsidies from state and federal programs for veterans and the chronically homeless.
In Los Angeles, voters have approved $1.2 billion in borrowing to help build 10,000 such units. Following the example at Potter’s Lane, some of those projects are now being designed with shipping containers as the structural element.
Kurt Carson came to Potter’s Lane from a ledge under the East Katella Avenue bridge over the Santa Ana River. He said he lived there six years and had no complaints, a perspective shaped by his 14 years as a Marine.
“I’ve been places where 2 million people would kill to get a place under that bridge,” Carson said. “We don’t have a whole lot to gripe about in this country.”