|“Compass gave me a place to stay, helped get me set up and find a steady income so I could put some money away.”|
JAMES, VETERANS PROGRAMS
Rich aromas draw them into the kitchen — the scent of onions and garlic caramelizing in a skillet, of chicken baking in the oven.
Then they recognize the person behind the counter. “Oh, you’re cooking tonight?” they exclaim, their voice rising in anticipation.
It’s a recurring scene at the Shoreline Veterans Program, where James Gengler, a veteran cook and restaurateur, plies his trade two to three days a week.
For the 25 veterans living in the center, the meals are a regular and welcome treat. “Some tell me that it’s the best meal they’ve ever had,” says James, 68, checking on a tray of chicken roasting in the oven.
Surely, James is no stranger to preparing meals at this scale, having spent three years as a cook in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s. Following his discharge, he worked in and later purchased a Seattle restaurant that specialized in honest, classic American cuisine.
He’s also familiar with the services and support offered to homeless veterans living in the transitional housing program, having completed the program in 2008.
Health problems and a loss of income had left James homeless. That’s when he moved into the Shoreline Veterans Program. The Compass Housing Alliance program combines transitional housing with comprehensive case management for 21 men and four women who are U.S. military veterans. Once in stable housing, these men and women can focus on overcoming the obstacles that contributed to homelessness.
While at Shoreline, James applied for and received a 100 percent non-service disability. With access to a source of income and treatment for his medical problems, James was soon on his way to securing permanent housing. A little more than a year after entering the program, James was ready to move into his new home.
“Compass gave me a place to stay, helped get me set up and find a steady income so I could put some money away,” James says.
Today, he lives in his own apartment and enjoys a happy retirement. And he remains a fixture at the Shoreline Veterans Program, where his home-cooked meals are welcomed by so many who are on their journey out of homelessness.
“I don’t mind doing this, because it’s what I used to do, anyway,” he said. “I figure I’m just paying back.”