The mountain town of Ben Lomond has many cool attributes: a beautiful art center, community hall, biker bar, good restaurants and open spaces. Now the city can add one more feather to its hat: a space dedicated to veterans for them to call home.
Jaye’s Timberlane on Highway 9 has 10 unique furnished cabins under a grove of redwoods and has long been a catch-all for visitors to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Over the next few months, the property will be converted into a permanent supportive housing (PSH) site for homeless veterans in the area, and the founders say the positive impact will trickle down to the community.
Hutch Collier, commanding officer of Aptos Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 10110, is a longtime resident of Boulder Creek. Having lived in the area since the early 1960s, Collier recognizes the need for this type of support for his fellow veterans.
“This project is by and for veterans, and my post will support this housing in any way it can. I really believe we should take care of our own, ”Collier said.
The Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building (Vets Hall) added Chris Cottingham: “Our veterans cannot afford to live in Santa Cruz and many are struggling to live on their current benefits. As we see more and more Veterans returning from Afghanistan in need of support and community, now is the time to develop a permanent supportive housing solution for our Santa Cruz County Veterans. This project is led by veterans for veterans. And the village atmosphere will support the community as well as self-reliance.
Keith Collins, co-founder of the program with Cottingham, has lived in affordable housing for about 20 years. His experience with various housing authorities throughout the Bay Area, coupled with his working knowledge of managing veterans programs in Santa Clara County, creates a deep expertise in the PSH field, which is an integral part of the project.
“I’ve always wanted to do something to support our local veterans,” Collins says.
He contacted Supervisor Manu Koenig, who oversees Santa Cruz County 1st District, about the idea, and Koenig was on board almost immediately.
“Supervisor Koenig put me in touch with Chris Cottingham… and once Chris and I got connected it was a perfect mix of mutual interests,” Collins said.
As a result of their partnership, Collins joined the Veterans Advisory Committee, and the Sustainable and Affordable Housing Project for Homeless Veterans was launched.
Collins cites the Jaye’s Timberlane site as the best of all possible worlds for the population he intends to serve.
“It has a rural feel, but it’s close to transportation and retail services, and veterans who move here will be able to develop their own close-knit community. We will have on-site support services including delivery of fresh groceries by Gray Bears to residents, ”Collins said.
His wife, Tamiko, has already been in contact with Gray Bears, and the organization has promised to provide whatever is needed.
“Furniture, electronics, they’ve got it all and they totally support this business,” she says.
Collins added, “It was truly a blessing to have so many organizations and individuals on board this project. ”
This includes the board of directors of Vets Hall, Front Street, Housing Matters, veteran support groups and local officials like Koenig and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson.
“We also have local private donors, so it’s all about buy-in from the local community,” he said.
A project like this doesn’t happen overnight. Stoney Brook, a veterans advocate from Santa Cruz, started the Veterans Treatment Court, which was launched in 2015. Brook’s experience with veterans and law enforcement (he is a former Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Deputy and District Attorney’s Office Investigator) made him the perfect person to pitch this idea.
“I’ve been thinking about it for five or six years,” said Brook. He looks around, spreading his arms wide. “I think they call it ‘harmonic convergence’.”
With the escrow of the property set to close in January, the team is excited to be getting closer to their goal.
“We are preparing, doing inspections and asking for Home Key funds from the state. We hope to be funded between February / March and open the doors soon after. Initially we will have 15 to 16 beds available and plan to increase the residence to 40 homeless veterans, ”Collins said.
The potential addition of RVs and trailers from Housing Matters will allow the property to support a larger population, and with discussions on the possibility of having additional services on site (mental health, drug counseling and d (alcohol, case management, vocational training and IT), the group hopes that residents of the complex will have their needs met in a safe and supportive environment.
Housing Matters will provide a shortlist of applicants for the property, and all residents will have HUD VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) vouchers to subsidize their monthly rent.
“We also want to raise funds for a dedicated shuttle that will take residents around town as needed,” Collins said.
Additionally, the local Eagle Scout troop has pledged to invest time and effort in maintaining the property with gardening and debris removal.
“It’s the happiest, the happiest for us,” Collins said.
“Usually when there are a lot of agencies involved in a project, it’s like a pit bull keeping their food dish. This process has been so open and transparent that it just makes your heart sing. It’s a dream come true, ”said Brook.
For local residents who wish to influence the project, the group is holding community town halls on December 6 and 10 at the Highlands Park Senior Center in Ben Lomond at 6 p.m. For those who wish to offer financial support, donations can be made online through the Community Foundation at cfscc.org/vetsvillage.