Josef Delozier spent about two decades as a homeless man in Modesto, sleeping in shelters, along rivers, in parks and alleys and behind businesses. He was an addict, and methamphetamine was his drug of choice.
But a few years ago, Delozier, 62, said he came to realize that he was too old for the streets and that if his life did not change, he would die on them.
“You get to a certain age and the body can’t take it,” he said. “The concrete got harder and harder.”
He found his way out of homelessness and into a home with help from the Salvation Army and its transitional-living program for veterans. Delozier served as a clerical worker on a Navy supply ship off the Vietnam coast in the early 1970s during the Vietnam War.
He gave up drugs about five years ago and entered the veterans program in December 2011 at the Salvation Army’s Berberian Homeless Shelter and Transitional Living Center near downtown Modesto.
Delozier stayed for about a year until moving into a Modesto apartment in January. His rent is subsidized through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs program. He pays $90 from the $516 he receives monthly from Social Security.
The Modesto program has 16 beds for men and four for women. Veterans can stay as long as 24 months and work with a case manager and counselor and get referrals for services at Modesto’s VA Clinic and other agencies. Veterans are required to pay 30 percent of their income toward the program, but it is free for veterans who do not have an income.
“I’m very grateful to the Salvation Army,” Delozier said. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be on the street. They gave me an opportunity to get my act together. Once you’re homeless, you start digging a hole. The longer you are homeless, the deeper the hole. Once it’s your life, it becomes almost impossible to pull yourself up unless you have some kind of help or backing.”
The Modesto program started in 2009 as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ End Veteran Homelessness initiative, which aims to help get homeless vets off the streets by 2015. The VA is working with the Salvation Army and other agencies as part of its nationwide effort.
As the country celebrates Veterans Day, there is a need for the initiative. The Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports veterans make up 13percent of the nation’s homeless adults. And a one-day count of homelessness across the country in January 2012 turned up 62,619 veterans who were homeless, according to the VA. But progress has been made. The VA says the number of homeless veterans has declined by 17.2percent since its initiative started four years ago.
Salvation Army Capt. Lisa Smith said that as of a couple of months ago, 56 veterans had completed the transitional-living program at the Berberian Center since 2009. She said nearly all of them have found housing.
Smith said Delozier was one of the program’s stars. “He was willing to do what it took,” she said. “He followed the program and rules, and he worked it. He put a lot into it, and he’s getting a lot out of it.”
Delozier was raised as an Army brat and lived overseas and throughout the United States as his Army father transferred to new assignments. Delozier settled in Manteca when he got out of the Navy because that’s where his parents were living. He eventually married, had two sons and went to work at the Tracy Army Depot.
Delozier said his marriage broke up and he moved to Modesto about 20 years ago. He remains estranged from his former wife and two sons.
For many years, Delozier said, he reveled in the freedom of being homeless and the close friendships he developed with other homeless people. He worked odd jobs and made money from recycling to support his drug habit. But he eventually grew tired of his life, and the streets became too dangerous.
He now has a warm bed, a roof over his head, a television and a new seasonal job at the Salvation Army’s winter shelter.
“I’m back in the mainstream,” Delozier said. “It makes me feel a lot better. My confidence and my self-respect is a lot bigger now. Before, I didn’t really care. I didn’t really care what people thought about me. Now, I care again.”
Those interested in learning more about the Salvation Army’s veterans program can call case manager Bonnie Romero at (209) 525-3751. Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.