Robert “Bobby” Templin, 52, was living in a camper in the woods off Old Walnut Canyon Road.
“I was out there by choice,” he said. “I love the woods.”
Originally from Reading, Pa., he came to Flagstaff 10 years ago to attend NAU. His life changed forever on Aug. 20, 2013.
“I got run over by a train,” he said.
He is missing his right leg below the knee, and his left leg is scarred and held together with pins. He also had surgery to repair a broken back.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” Templin said.
He is homeless and living in a motel room. But he is a U.S. Army veteran, and with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Templin will be able to move into an apartment of his own next week.
The VA funding for Supportive Services for Veterans and Families has been distributed to two organizations operating in northern Arizona. A total of $3 million is available to help about 900 veterans and their families in the northern part of the state who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless.
The hope of the program is to prevent homelessness and promote dignity to people who have served the country, said Michael Van Ness, Flagstaff team leader for the Veterans Resource Centers of America. The northern Arizona VRCA received $2 million in SSVF funds.
“It’s our duty to do this,” Van Ness added. “It would be one way to help those who have given so much to us.”
DIFFICULT TO COUNT
Here are some spotlights on the homeless veteran population in the Flagstaff area, which is only a portion of northern Arizona covered by the SSVF grants:
— According to the Sunshine Rescue Mission in Flagstaff, there were a total of 163 homeless veteran men who stayed at the shelter in 2013, which was about 2 percent of all the men who stayed there.
— And at the Flagstaff Shelter Services shelter, in last year’s season between October 2012 and April 2013, 41 homeless veterans sought shelter.
— According to information from the state Department of Economic Security, during a point-in-time count of the homeless in 2013, there were 389 homeless veterans counted in areas of the state outside Maricopa and Pima counties.
The homeless, and veterans among them, are notoriously difficult to count — for a variety of reasons, Van Ness said, including settling on what the definitions of “homeless” and “veterans” are.
Some do not stay at local shelters — they camp in the woods or live in their vehicle. Some use more than one shelter, some move out of the community after or before being counted, and some do not reveal their veteran status.
But Van Ness said the 900 number the two organizations are able to serve is just “scratching the surface,” and that perhaps the actual population is perhaps twice or five times the 900 who can be helped.
The need is there, Van Ness said.
“That (funding) should put a dent in that population, I should hope,” Van Ness added.
Anthony Gonzales, SSVF case manager for Catholic Charities, which received a $1.1 million grant, said the funds don’t just help house homeless veterans and families. The funds also can be used for helping with emergency supplies, utilities, deposits and more.
Van Ness added that the screening criteria for the funds are not very limiting — veterans with anything other than a dishonorable discharge and financial need. In essence, clients qualify with the “but for” test.
“But for our assistance, this family would be homeless,” Van Ness said, adding that even if veterans don’t qualify, they can still be helped through the two organizations.
Gonzales said the assistance is based on a “housing first” model.
“We house them right away, first things first,” Gonzales said.
Van Ness added that the theory is that housing is necessary for addressing all the issues surrounding a veteran’s homelessness.
The clients will be assisted with case workers assigned to them to help with navigating the path to getting housed, according to information from Catholic Charities.
SLEEPING IN VAN
Arthur “Art” Bennett, 63, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1st Marine Division from 1968 to 1973. He did one tour of duty in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.
Bennett lived in Flagstaff for 17 years before moving his wife Marion to Illinois in 2002 so she could be near her children before she died.
She suffered from a number of health issues and died in 2005, Bennett said.
“I lost everything trying to save her and ended up homeless for a while,” he added.
He and Marion were together for 30 years.
“When Mary passed away, I figured I wouldn’t be far behind,” he said. “But time passed, and I’m still kicking.”
“I didn’t have the desire to live,” Bennett said. “I didn’t care. I guess the Lord has another reason for me still being here.”
He stayed with family until he wore out his welcome. He took work through the Veterans Administration in Wisconsin and made enough money to return out west.
He lived and slept in his car, and he took showers and used other services at Flagstaff Shelter Services. He looked for a place to live. The rents and deposits and fees were too much.
“I couldn’t believe how much they were,” Bennett said.
A plumber by trade with arthritis and bad knees that keep him from doing the work, Bennett lived on a fixed income from Social Security and didn’t have a job at the time. In October, the weather started getting cold.
“I was just getting ready to head south,” Bennett said.
The staff at the shelter helped him to land a job at Quality Connections. He picks up and delivers office supplies. And because he has VA medical benefits, he was in the Flagstaff clinic getting treatment when he heard about the SSVF program.
Van Ness was able to help him get into an apartment before the end of October with SSVF funds.
“It all happened within a week,” Bennett said of his good fortune.
VRCA pad for all of the deposits and fees for him to get into his apartment. He needed just $341 to move into his new apartment off Lake Mary Road.
“I couldn’t afford to do that and still stay alive,” Bennett said of all the deposits and fees. “I couldn’t have done the whole shooting match — just to move in.”
With his new job and Social Security, he said he is able to afford the $890 a month rent and utilities. He is responsible for the entire amount. He said he does not have to pay back the SSVF assistance he received.
When he first moved into his apartment, Bennett used a pallet on the floor to sleep because he couldn’t afford a bed.
“But, hey, it beats sleeping in my van,” he said.
Now he has a bed, and on the first night after getting the bed, he slept the whole night through.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he added, with a smile.
Six months ago, Bennett said he wouldn’t have had a smile on his face and would have been thinking his life couldn’t sink much lower.
“I guess I went through the steps of grief without knowing what they really were,” Bennett said.
His life is different now, and he is filled with gratitude.
“I couldn’t have done it on my own,” he said.
LOST HIS LEG
Templin served in the U.S. Army from 1980-82 in the 1st Engineer Brigade as a chemical operations specialist.
He said he doesn’t remember what happened to him that night when he got hit by the train. He went to bed in his camper and woke up in the hospital.
After his discharge from the hospital, he was admitted to The Peaks and had been there until his recent discharge. He is working on getting Social Security disability benefits, and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System funding is supposed to help with a prosthetic leg.
He currently is staying at the Americana Inn with the help of St. Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Charities. His dogs, Blackberry, 9, and Geronimo, 4, who were kept safe at the Coconino Humane Association while he mended, stay with him.
Templin is scheduled to move into an apartment next week with rental assistance to be provided by SSVF money awarded to Catholic Charities. He was supposed to move in Friday, but the apartment available was on the second floor, and he still only has one leg to get around on.
Templin said Catholic Charities will help pay his move-in costs and rent until he can get back on his feet.
“It means a lot,” Templin said. “I don’t know where I would be, you know? I can’t even explain it.”
He said he doesn’t want to be on disability.
“I want to be fully functional,” Templin said. “I can still work.”
He said he is a certified machinist, and has been operating machinery his whole life.
“But I’m not particular,” he added.
For the time being, he is still laid up in bed and has to get around with a walker.
“It’s not what I’m used to,” Templin said. “I’m used to being independent, not relying on anybody.”
He added, “But it’s getting hard. I want to be up and about. I want to walk.”
His family back in Pennsylvania is poor and can’t afford to come out to visit him. He doesn’t want to leave Flagstaff.
“I lost a leg here,” he said. “I paid for it. I’m staying here. It’s my home here.”
Van Ness and Gonzales said that both organizations are looking for volunteers to staff offices and help in administering the program.
For more information on the SSVF program, contact Catholic Charities at (928) 774-9125, or Veterans Resource Center of America at (928) 266-1984.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Services for Veteran Families Catholic Charities:
— Amount $1.15 million
— Clients to assist: 200
— Area served: Coconino and Yavapai counties, including the Yavapai-Apache Indian Nation.
Veterans Resource Centers
— Amount: $2 million
— Clients to assist: 700
— Area served: Flagstaff, Prescott, Kingman, Navajo and Hopi reservations, Lake Havasu and Bullhead City.
— Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs