How Do You Get a Homeless Vet off The Streets?

Richard Gierman and Harley.

Richard Gierman and Harley. Photos by R.V. Scheide

Richard Gierman knows what it’s like to fall between the cracks. Like millions of Americans, the 57-year-old Army veteran and construction engineer found himself out of work after the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. The oldest of six siblings raised in Southern California’s outlaw biking milieu, Gierman’s hard-working, hard-partying lifestyle inevitably caught up with him, and the next thing the father of eight knew, he was couch-surfing in San Bernardino, homeless and alone.

“My family was shattered, but it’s coming back together now,” he explained last week at the Redding Veteran’s Resource Center, where he volunteers to help bring homeless veterans in off the streets. Via the Supportive Services for Veterans and Families program, Redding VRC has housed 360 homeless veterans (and 180 dependents) since it opened three years ago, including Gierman, who relocated to the Redding area in 2014.

Gierman’s spouse of 30 years has joined him in the small apartment they share in Anderson and he’s mending relationships with their five children and nine grandchildren. Two more grandchildren are on the way and he’s excited about getting to see them grow up.

“The whole mountain of life!” the barrel-chested biker boomed in a raspy baritone. “I’m gonna get the rewards. God is taking care of it for me.”

The Redding Veterans Resource Center got Richard Gierman off the street.

The Redding Veterans Resource Center got Richard Gierman off the street.

Make that God and the VRC. The Redding VRC is located nearby and closely affiliated with the Veteran’s Administration Clinic on Hartnell Avenue, which provides outpatient healthcare services to eligible veterans such as Gierman and, full disclosure, myself.

Redding VRC director Brad Long says that many veterans are unaware that they’re entitled to substantial health and welfare benefits for their service, especially if they’ve fallen on hard economic times.

“I qualified for the program,” Gierman said. “It was a different avenue for getting off the street.”

Redding VRC is one of 15 centers maintained in California, Nevada and Arizona by VRC of America. It currently maintains 160 beds of transitional housing where veterans and their dependents can stay for up to two years. In addition to standard housing, the Redding VRC also features a 12-bed sober living facility. The VRC will break ground on a long-awaited 31-unit affordable apartment complex for veterans in Shasta Lake later this fall.

Using data from the most recent point-in-time homeless survey conducted by the Shasta County Homeless Continuum of Care Council, Long estimated that currently there may be as many as 400 homeless veterans in the county, along with an unknown number of dependents.

“We concentrate on the one person, the veteran, but he or she can be the head of a household or the primary breadwinner, and there can be so many other people effected,” Long said. He works closely with local government agencies and charitable organizations to ensure that when homeless veterans are identified, they are referred to Redding VRC.

Including Long, the center has four full-time staff members and five volunteers who answer telephones and do minor office work at the center. There are also “friends of the Redding VRC,” concerned citizens who keep their eyes open for veterans in need and refer them to the center. Then there are veterans like Gierman who’ve managed to get off the street with the VRC’s help and show their gratitude by volunteering to help their fellow veterans who are still out there.

“Richard started off as a client,” Long said. Once Gierman and his wife were settled, he began popping into the center daily to offer help. He gave veterans rides to medical appointments and grocery stores. He helped facilitate interviews with prospective landlords. He talked to veterans who were down. “He needed to hang out with veterans.”

Gierman served as a UN Peacekeeper in the South Korean DMZ from 1976-79. Even though he was honorably discharged in 1979 and later diagnosed with service-connected hearing loss, he never received a single disability payment until the Redding VA clinic business office discovered the error in his record last year.

The back disability pay came in handy for making the rent, furnishing their apartment in Anderson and keeping the truck and the Harley running. The hog remains a central feature of his lifestyle, but these days Gierman sports new colors as a member of the Shasta County chapter of Back From Hell, a clean-and-sober motorcycle club formed about 10 years ago in part to raise awareness about the homeless veterans issue.

The Shasta County Back From Hell MC supports veterans causes.

The Shasta County Back From Hell MC supports veterans causes.

“The reason I joined is they keep me in line,” he said gruffly. “We’re about making the man, not breaking the man.”

To be sure, many of the veterans on the streets of Redding are already broken men. As a volunteer, about the most Gierman can do is inform homeless veterans that help is available. Whether or not they accept the help is another matter.

“Veterans can be very butt-headed,” he said. “I try to calm them down.”

From his own experience as a homeless vet struggling with substance abuse, Gierman understands not every one wants to be helped. He’s known people who will take a strike on a drug felony rather than go to a drug diversion program. If getting off the streets means sobering up, forget about it.

“They don’t have any hope left,” he said. “That’s why drugs and alcohol remain attractive. People want to get high, but when you get high, you’re gonna miss everything below.”

Nevertheless, he’s determined to keep helping.

“My next goal is to go down in these little campsites,” he said. “Some of these guys could care less. Some vets just don’t like the system. They need to have more programs for these guys because some of of them are in sad shape. It’s not so much the physical issues, it’s the mental. Maybe from drugs and alcohol, maybe from a bad relationship.”

Some cases, Gierman’s included, appear to be helped by divine intervention.

“The godsend for me was this: am I failing or is God helping me out?” he said, adding that by God he meant Jesus Christ. “Do I want to be a drug addict or do I want to be a contributing member of society? The eye-opener was that I had to take responsibility for my own actions.”

As an infantryman serving in South Korea, Gierman expected to be treated like an animal. Some four decades later, seeing homeless veterans in the street being treated like animals instead of free men infuriates him.

“With my vet stuff I get very animated,” he said. “’You need to calm down,’ people try to tell me. No, everybody needs to wake the hell up. It should be every one’s goal keeping veterans off the street. I really wish people would open up their eyes and see what we can do to help the vets here in Redding, California.”

How You Can Help

Newscafe.com readers may remember Jennifer Ruhberg from a story I wrote about finding her late husband Bob Ruhberg’s cowboy hat. Bob was a Vietnam Vet who succumbed to lung disease caused by Agent Orange. Since his passing, Jennifer has been volunteering at Redding VRC where she has started “Bob’s Bags,” which collects donated household items such as shampoo, shaving cream, razors, deodorant, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, shirts, underwear, pants, sweats, shoes, nonperishable food items and cash.

While the Redding VRC operates on an annual grant and occasional donations to assist veterans in finding housing, the majority of those funds go directly to security deposits and rent for initial move-in costs. Bob’s Bags helps newly housed veterans by providing them with basic staples they otherwise cannot afford. Donations are accepted year-round. To donate or for more information, call Jennifer Ruhberg 530-474-6090.

Golfing For Veterans

The Nick Dahl 2016 Memorial Golf Tournament will be held at Churn Creek Golf Course Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. All proceeds go to sponsor housing for the Redding VRC. Entry fee is $40 per golfer and includes 9 holes of golf and barbecue dinner. To register or for more information, contact Pam Dahl at 530-227-7808.

 

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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30 Responses

  1. cheyenne says:

    This is a good article, R.V.  As I have posted before, my wife and I help the Community Action of Laramie County, a group who refurbish apartments for homeless veterans in Southeast Wyoming and Northern Colorado.  While the fees and deposits are paid the apartments are empty of essentials.  The group we belong to sets up the kitchens with utensils and sometimes we get special requests.  Right now one veteran has asked for a small crock pot to cook meals and the request was forwarded to us.  We will find one as we have found several already.

    One thing you need to mention is that one doesn’t have to be a veteran to volunteer or help out.  I find that many people think they can’t help because they weren’t veterans.

  2. Virginia says:

    I don’t know if this group works with FaithWorks,  but their is a veteran house, also.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Redding VRC director Brad Long cited numerous local organizations the VRC works with so I’m sure FaithWorks is among them. There were so many organizations trying to help, both government and private, it was impossible to list them all.

  3. name says:

    I am not a member, but I can attest that the Back From Hell MC does great work for the community with their fund raising for various causes.

  4. David M. Kerr says:

    Housing first is a great idea for compassionate counties like Butte, Yuba, Lake or Humboldt.  Those are beautiful places in spite of the gangs.  There are some pretty scary looking characters in the shopping areas I see there.

    The state of California should be funding more section 8 housing vouchers in the democrat voting cities.

    Are Gary Cadd, Carl Bott and I locals?  One of the most bizarre propaganda stunts is to  define anyone who moved here more than five years ago as local.  The better definition would have been:  where did you attend high school.

    Somehow liberals like to portray Californians as like medieval peasants who live their lives in the same parish.  Californians are highly mobile.  Incentives matter.  The subject of this article would be better off moving where the economy is better.  The new Ebay data center, Apple campus, Switch data center (the world’s largest) are  in Reno.  He should consider moving where the tech companies leaving California are investing.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      David — I’m still trying to get my arms around your philosophy of what to do with the down-and-out people of our community.  It seems to be a combination of making Redding as miserable as possible for them, while at the same time Pied-Pipering them out of town with promises of greener pastures in California’s more compassionate and prosperous places.  Something like Medieval rat control.

      As for your belief that liberals like to portray Californians as sessile indentured servants…..huh?  Where are you getting that?  If anything, it’s liberal coastal California that has created opportunity and invited mass migration to the coastal counties to take advantage of the prosperity.  It’s liberal Californians who encourage their children to attend university and strike out on their own.  It’s local conservatives who raise their kids to think that college education is suspect and prosperous coastal California is one huge den of iniquity; and who wring their hands because where did all the mill jobs go that would have kept our kids in their rightful place?

      • Virginia says:

        You are portraying all conservatives with a broad brush. Grow up. There are good and bad on all ends of the spectrum!

        • Anita Brady says:

          Considering David’s brush that was used to paint liberals in a strange way, I think Steve is being quite generous about conservatives.

        • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

          Virginia — Yes, of course I’m painting conservatives with a broad brush.  But I was responding to someone who sees the world in shades of black and white—look at his closing paragraph.  All liberals think that Californians are like Medieval peasants?   All Californians are highly mobile?  None have familial constraints?  None have affordability constraints?

          I’m not even including David’s oddly parochial, insular non sequitur: Being a local means you went to high school here. Before long, it’ll be 30 years in Shasta County for me and my wife.  We own a business here.  We own properties here.  My wife’s entire career as a teacher/administrator has been here. We raised our kids here. We’re augured in.  I don’t give a hoot what David thinks—we’re locals.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      You raise a potentially valid point David. In Richard’s case, he has family connections here in Redding that made relocation make sense. However, there are many people who’ve been stranded in Redding for whatever reason, have no connection to the region, and simply housing them won’t be enough if there aren’t enough jobs for the able-bodied. So it would make sense to relocate people where there might be potential jobs, and VRC does have centers in some of those locations you mention, for example Reno. Or, maybe find some way to encourage some of those employers to move to Redding. The truth is, the economy isn’t humming along as nicely as we’ve been led to believe, there aren’t enough jobs for the people who aren’t homeless, even in the areas you cite, so moving the problem somewhere else doesn’t solve the problem. We still live in a country where helping the down-and-out is still considered the morally right thing to do, so people are always going to help people, no matter how many bus tickets out of town you issue.

    • anonymous says:

      David,

       

      Keep in mind that section 8 housing vouchers are not funded by the state, but by Housing & Urban Development at the congressional level.  While that seems to be the most local funding source, legislation has many barriers for a voucher and who can participate in the program.

  5. Brian Mcnuelty says:

    Great Story RV, I enjoy reading every time one pops up.. Keep up the good work.

  6. Diane says:

    Thank you, Richard, for allowing your story to be told, and, R.V., for telling it.  It could be helpful to many.  It is admirable that Richard is “paying it forward” by reaching out to help other vets.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I like the paying it forward idea, too. Having practiced on occasion, I can say it works, if you have a high degree of grace.

  7. Jennifer Ruhberg says:

    Thank you so much Richard for sharing your story. You have truly helped in bringing awareness and putting a face to the homeless veteran.  RV thank you so very much for your article. You have not only put a face to our homeless veterans but helped to put the word out to assist our veterans and to help fulfill Bob’s dream.

  8. cheyenne says:

    The timber industry died in the 70s that is why many of us commuted to the Bay Area for work.  The problem in Redding is a Catch22 situation.  There are only a few tech jobs available for many skilled tech workers so the majority of skilled workers have to leave to find decent work.  I know how I have read some posters who say that can’t find workers for their business.  That has more to do with those businesses not wanting to pay tech workers what they are worth.  My oldest daughter was in the Army and they trained her in computers.  When she came back to Redding the so-called tech companies didn’t want to pay much more than minimum wage, so she moved to Seattle and found a good paying job there.  Then many of her friends followed her up there.

    And this ongoing problem with unemployed and homeless seems to be in Redding.  My wife’s siblings are in Weaverville and Lewiston and doing well enough and don’t have the homeless problem that Redding has.  Hayfork seems to be the only town that is going downhill and that has more to do with the flatlanders who moved to the Trinity Pines area to exercise their constitutional rights to grow marijuana.

    The long time families seem to have survived by moving out of Redding proper leaving that town to the AB109ers and vagrants from out of the area.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I heard somebody in the know say exactly the same thing about Weaverville and Hayfork the other day. I first came in here with my family in 1978, immediately joined the Navy, came back in 1982, couldn’t get work so went to SF. My family’s still up here so I came back eventually.

      • cheyenne says:

        A survivor from the World Series earthquake who was pulled from the rubble of the collapsed freeway in Oakland was a commuter from Weaverville.  Unfortunately he did die.

  9. amy says:

    Hi R.V.,

    I have read your articles in A News Cafe, and I really like what you write about. I am a Redding native who lives in western Colorado now. I still think of Redding as home, though, and my mom still lives there. I have seen more evidence of homelessness, and it seems like a bigger issue there than in some communities. Perhaps it is just more visible.

    I wanted to tell you a little about the VAC here in Grand Junction, which is the Veteran’s Art Center. It started just a couple of years ago, and has grown tremendously. It was simply a place where Vets could go to make and display their art. Then people began teaching classes, and the Center began accumulating equipment like easels, sculpture tools, woodworking tools, computers, rock polishers, metalworking tools, etc. I think much of it was donated, but some was purchased through donations of money.

    There is a shop where the artists can sell their work, with a (relatively) small commission taken to cover costs (barely). My ladies’ group just had the director come speak to us and I was truly astonished at how much they have for the men and women to do. And it really isn’t just a place to go hang out, though it is that, to some extent. There was an expectation that different age Vets would not mingle much, but it has turned out quite the opposite. There are older guys who hang out in the woodshop most days, and younger guys who come in to learn from them. There are women who paint or weave and teach others to do it. It’s a safe place, and there are homeless vets who hang out and can make art if they choose. They also do stints in the retail space where the art is sold.

    It sounds a little touchy-feely for some, but in the end, the VAC fills a lot of different needs for different folks. They have begun providing counseling, and job-skills courses, help with online resumes, referrals to shelters, etc. Mostly volunteer.

    It’s not much more than a drop in a bucket of need, but it is something. And it is working.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I think many veterans don’t realize they belong to a fraternity/sorority that lasts a lifetime. It doesn’t matter when or where you served or whether you were wounded in action. Especially now in the volunteer era, there’s something special about sucking it up and serving your country, no matter what reason you joined. The VAC in Grand Junction sounds like an awesome program, it’s amazing how much help there is out there, if you can just get the veterans to accept the help.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Amy — Both my parents and my wife’s parents met as students at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.   Just by coincidence, my parents bought the house next to theirs in Sacramento, and I feel in love with the girl next door.  Both my wife and I have deep West Slope roots—I consider Steamboat Springs my second home.  Local musician Jim Dyar is a Mesa grad, as is Giants reliever Sergio Romo.

      The VAC sounds incredible, by the way.

  10. Jean Smith says:

    I knew Richard back in the day. He’s had many struggles, life has not been kind to him and his wife and children. This Richard is a whole new man and it does my heart good to learn of his new life. Right on Richard, you have found your path. So many of us never do. I am happy for you and proud of you. Rock on Richard.

  11. Frank Treadway says:

    Getting the homeless Vets, or any others, off the streets of Redding, is a one-on-one kind of social action process.  Until the County/City literally hire a team of Homeless Outreach Workers (HOW) they are going to roam the Downtown Redding Sector (and other parts of Redding) for the rest of their lives. It’s as simple as that. Cough up the money, find grants, seek private funding, do something government officials !  Otherwise no complaints, live with it !

  12. Kim says:

    Just an Fyi.. Back From Hell is no longer a clean and sober club. They haven’t been for about 3 yrs.

  13. Chad says:

    I applaud the efforts of locals supporting the homeless veterans.  It should not go with out notice that President Obama and the VA have made reachout to homeless vets a priority.  The number of veterans nationwide has been reduced by significant percent.  Somewhere around 40-50% have given a hand out of homelessness.  Of course it is not simply the government doing the work in the trenches.  It is every program like this that contributes to an issue that has been a national shame.

    • chad masterson says:

      awesome I hope it all works out what the community needs to focus on is the heiroin addicts and thieves I myself am homeless I’m tired of the gross and out of control people ive seen a great big change in the two and half years ive been here

  14. Ally says:

    Thank you.  I mean that. God bless you all.

    Holding onto faith and hope for my son.

    Heartbroken Army mom

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