Veterans’ organization and local partners keep blind woman from “falling through the cracks”

At age 94, Rose Burgess had already lost two military veteran husbands, and was legally blind. Her daughter had just died unexpectedly, and she would soon have no place to live. Police Deputy Chris Dyer was on duty when Rose walked in with nowhere else to go. He knew homelessness was dangerous enough for the young, but it could be a death sentence within weeks for Rose. He also knew just where to turn for help, and immediately sent an e-mail to GCVF, Gold Coast Veterans Foundation… “All Hands On Deck!”

The charity in Camarillo, known for rescuing the most damaged homeless veterans, jumped into action. But they quickly found that virtually all public or private agencies providing housing assistance were prohibited from helping Rose. According to government rules, she was plenty rich enough to fend for herself.

The annual income needed for someone to afford a 1 Bedroom apartment in Oxnard is over $60,000 and Rose’s fixed income was $3300 a month. Even though that‘s twenty grand short of the real-world need, it was above the government ‘low-income” assistance threshold. But Rose had also leased a Subaru so her daughter could take her on errands. She had several storage units, and was paying storage for a vintage mid-century travel trailer. These expenses put her even further away from being able to pay rent.

“We’ve helped thousands of veterans and family members, and rescued 87 from homelessness,” says GCVF’s Director Bob Harris; “but this is the first time we had to rescue a 94-year-old blind widow because 12 social service agencies refused to help her… we never saw that one coming.” He adds; “Of course the system doesn’t want to cause harm to people like Rose, but that income threshold was going to put her out on the street regardless.”

St. Vincent de Paul of Ventura, and individual police officer donations covered an emergency motel room for Rose, keeping her safe until GCVF could find a long-term solution. GCVF began the enormous task of condensing her storage, finding a buyer for the trailer, finding an affordable ‘senior living’ apartment for Rose, and getting her moved in before the motel funding ran out. Case manager Donna Lockwood took Rose to Kirby Subaru in Ventura, who very graciously took the car back without any of the typical ‘early termination’ penalties or fees.

Rose was finally able to have a home. Rescue team leader Rafael Stoneman personally covered several urgent expenses, and United Way of Ventura provided funds for move-in costs; GCVF was then able move her into a senior living apartment with meals. After getting everything into one storage locker, they helped sell the trailer to a man who plans to restore it with his wife into a vacation home. In a rather poignant twist, the man’s father is a Vietnam combat veteran.

“We catch the veterans that fall through the cracks” is one of GCVF’s slogans; this time they caught an elderly veteran widow before she was homeless. “We make these miracles happen every day, but we can’t do it alone,” says Harris; “United Way and St. Vincent de Paul, Deputy Chris Dyer and his fellow officers, and the fantastic people at Kirby Subaru all pulled together to rescue Rose. We need the whole community’s support to make this same miracle happen tomorrow.”

Gold Coast Veterans Foundation is the region’s leading nonprofit for veterans, providing everything to reduce and eliminate suffering & homelessness for military veterans and family caregivers. Comprehensive, integrated services are provided free of charge at a walk-in / no-appointment service center. (805) 482-6550

Editor note: Because Rose is living at a government facility we were not able to get her photo.

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