Donald Cunningham, a veteran who had been occasionally homeless over the course of several years, recounts a call he received from the board president of Paso Cares, a North County nonprofit organization.
“We found a coach for you,” Cunningham, 57, recalls Cherie Michaelson telling him, referring to a 34-foot-long trailer. “It was like winning the lottery.”
The RVs for Veterans program, facilitated by Paso Cares, connects homeless veterans with people who want to donate their recreational vehicle, fifth wheel or van.
The program was started about five years ago by Becky Jorgeson of Hope’s Village, which seeks to create a sustainable village of low-cost homes for homeless adults. It was brought under Paso Cares about three years ago, Michaelson said.
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Just earlier this year, the program surpassed a milestone: 60 RVs, mostly travel trailers and fifth wheels, had been donated and passed on to homeless veterans and their families.
The donation can be extremely gratifying for the person giving up the recreational vehicle, knowing that it will give shelter to someone who has been sleeping outside.
For the veterans and their families, the gift can be life-changing, Michaelson said.
“You just see that this person or family is going to finally have something that they all deserve: a bed to sleep in, a window to look out of, a chair to sit in and a door to lock at night,” she said.
Cunningham, who has slept outside in San Luis Obispo and other parts of the county, said it can take some time for a homeless individual to get used to sleeping indoors — but the shelter and stability are transformative. Cunningham used it as a step toward more permanent housing.
After living in the trailer for some time at a South County campground and other areas, Cunningham said a friend is currently using it while Cunningham is in the process of moving from a friend’s place in Templeton to San Luis Obispo through a supportive housing program for veterans.
In the meantime, Michaelson said she has another five potential donations that are pending. She also has a list of 20 to 30 homeless veterans that she’s in the process of updating.
Michaelson requests that donated vehicles be registered, running and habitable.
“A lot of people will leave linens and pots and pans and a microwave,” she said. “They’ll leave that for the person knowing they’re coming out of a horrific situation.”