By Greg Asciutto
For the first time in 12 years, former U.S. Army Master Sergeant Edwood Deaver has a place to call his own. Tucked away on the ninth floor of Downtown Los Angeles’ Weingart Center for the Homeless, his transitional housing apartment only comes with the basics: a bed, roof and privacy. But for the 55-year-old Deaver, it’s all that he needs.
“I’m not sleeping on the ground,” he says with a street-weathered smile. “I’m warm, protected from the elements — but I’m still looking out the window wondering, ‘Hey, what’s going on out there?'”
Six weeks ago, the Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom veteran was sleeping behind a dumpster in a vacant North University Park lot. Four times a day, he pushed a rusty shopping cart along a two-mile recycling route, picking up cans and bottles in hopes of scraping together $12 for lunch and dinner.
Deaver had fallen through the cracks to become just another statistic: One homeless veteran out of 6,248 in Los Angeles County, 15,179 in California and 57,849 in the nation.
Below: In his own words, Deaver explains how he wound up homeless in L.A. after suffering severe injuries in Iraq
But early one March morning, he finally caught a break. While panhandling, he struck up a conversation with a stranger who had friends in City Hall. That same week, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs admitted Deaver to the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center.
“When they found out I was [on the streets for] 12 years, they expedited a lot of things,” he says. “The past two months have been like a roller coaster. I swore I was writing a whole book if you saw all the papers and forms I had to fill out — but it’s been worth it.”
After a slew of physical and mental evaluations, Deaver became eligible for a number of benefits through various county and Veterans Affairs programs.
He now qualifies for General Relief through the L.A. County Department of Public Social Services, which will give him a $221 monthly stipend, food stamps and bus tokens to get to and from medical appointments in Santa Monica. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) is putting him on the fast track to occupational training and employment.
And in addition to two years of guaranteed housing at the Weingart Center, the Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing Program (VASH) will soon facilitate his move from temporary housing to a permanent residence in a neighborhood of his own choosing.
“I’m jumping up for joy right now,” he says with a hearty Southern laugh. If things go as scheduled, Deaver says he will have a stable job and his own apartment in North University Park by the end of 2014.