Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the length of Kelly Johnson's RV. It's 34 feet long.
The sound of running water made a whisper of Kelly Johnson’s sobs as he lifted his head from the creek bed two years ago. Three homeless men had ambushed him and pilfered his food. He was left with broken bones and fractured vertebrae, worse injuries than he ever suffered as a Marine, he recalled.
Survival is a daily ordeal for veterans who make the San Luis Obispo Creek their home. But today, Johnson rests his head on a pillow thanks to Hope’s Village of SLO.
Founded in 2011 by Becky Jorgeson, Hope’s Village of SLO is an organization that is working to combat homelessness throughout San Luis Obispo County. Among its charitable endeavors is the “RVs for Vets” project. So far, Hope’s Village has helped seven area veterans obtain RVs from private donors.
Johnson, who learned about the charity after he was attacked in 2011, now lives in a 34-foot long beige RV that he usually parks at campgrounds in Oceano or at Johnson Ranch. He said he couldn’t have been happier to get out of the creek.
“My mobility was limited until now. Just getting out of the creek and walking to the store was a chore, and I could only grab a few things because of my injuries,” Johnson said. “My life has improved quite a bit.”
The RVs for Vets project works by linking donors who are willing to gift their RVs to homeless veterans. The donor is required to transfer ownership of the RV as a gift to the recipient. The veteran is required to obtain insurance, pay for smog testing, transfer and registration fees. Jorgeson, founder and president of Hope’s Village of SLO, said she was pleasantly surprised by the community’s response to the charity.
“So many people have come out of the woodwork to offer a hand,” Jorgeson said. “Cal Poly and Cuesta students have come out to help. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback on this program.”
There are currently more than 100 locations around San Luis Obispo County where recipients can park their RVs. However, it’s illegal to park overnight within San Luis Obispo city limits, hindering immediate access to grocery stores, hospitals and other amenities there.
The organization’s grand vision includes the creation of a self-sustaining community with an RV lot, orchards, gardens and livestock. Tony Glanville, the organization’s director, believes the village could be the first step to solving the problem of homelessness locally.
“It’s a chance to get these people out of the creek beds, out from under bridges, and give them a place to call home,” Glanville said.
For the community to function, the formerly homeless residents would have to contribute by planting, harvesting and maintaining the land, Glanville said.
Dana Lilley, supervising planner with the county of San Luis Obispo, said the project isn’t likely to get off the ground without a consistent source of funding because of the high cost of land. So far, the organization has risen a little more than $2,000 and does not have a consistent source of funding, nor has it acquired any land.
Hope’s Village of SLO is seeking nonprofit status to help raise funds and is looking throughout the county for a suitable place for construction, Glanville said.