Russ Wilson is a Veteran who lives at the Renton Veterans Center (RVC). He found permanent housing at Compass with the help of the Salvation Army. He shared his story with us in an interview about his hopes for the future and the future of Compass Housing Alliance. The following are his words directly transcribed.
Compass is the best nonprofit social service entity I’ve ever seen in my life. Everybody is treated the same.
I was homeless for a long time. I lived there in Seattle. Everywhere I go, I try to go through the VA to seek employment, seek a place to live, education, drug rehab.
I lived at the Aloha Inn. I stayed there for a full year, and I saved my money. First place I went was Seattle housing, they were renovating in the first place I went. I went from there to that place across the way from Harborview. Real crappy place. Lots of drugs. If you walk in the stairwells, they just look like they are asleep – all kinds of bad stuff goes on in that building. But then I had to leave because the rent was too much. From there I stayed at Salvation Army for a full year, and they had a program called the HUD VASH. It was for housing for Veterans.
I didn’t know anything about the Veteran center, this beautiful place here at Compass.
I never expected to feel so welcomed, or feel at home as much as I’ve felt here. I have an apartment: it is scaled to how much I make for rent, I have food stamps and there is a food bank, but I haven’t had to use that in like six months. I feel solid. I don’t wake up every day and say “what am I gonna do with the rest of my life?”
The clientele that comes here is international. We are all in very good spirits here. The staff here don’t let us get down, don’t let us go down that road. A lot of camaraderie. It feels like family. I told someone the other day: I was thinking about this. I was thinking about the holidays and it is just thrilling to know that I am home for the holidays. When I go to the VA, I have a home to come back to. This place. A lot of places you go to, other places it isn’t even part of their repertoire to make it feel like home or to work with Veterans.
They have an understanding of Veterans here that is really cool. Compass is the best place I’ve found in my life. I really believe that. Salvation Army is second. As far as the internal workings and the actual ground floor, what people deal with daily, Compass is special.
Renton is a good place, and I still have to go to the VA into the city, in Seattle. I take the bus up there for my appointments. Anyone working for the VA, they are compassionate. Being a Veteran is an identity.
When I served, I didn’t want to kill anybody, but I had a background in the service industry. I grew up in foster care and I always wanted to be a chef. I went into the Navy and I was a cook. I was a chef in the Navy for six and a half years.
I was on a missile cruiser, trained together, 400 guys on the ship. We carried everything on the board. We did a full year in the west indies. We were in the Mediterranean during the war. Radar and mapping mostly.
That was my life, I was a baker. I was 17 when I got in. I was a cook for the officers at first then I was a baker for the whole ship. When you are on duty, you are on duty all the time. We had these special vibrating pillows if they needed us during the night. The Navy is a wonderful way to see the world. Brand new ship. I enjoyed the life. Strap yourself down in the bed and get rocked to sleep every night. Like a Viking ship with those Atlantic squalls. It was a 24/7 work environment. Didn’t have time off. My holidays and birthdays just sort of went away.
If you are a homeless person, you understand this though, you don’t have any holidays. Holidays are some of the hardest times because everyone goes home and you don’t have any services. If you have money on Friday and you can’t find any work, you are stuck until Monday. You have to find a place to bathe and wash clothes and – it’s tough being homeless.
When you are out there, you have to just look out for number one. Your sole purpose has to just be “me.” I didn’t do anything to piss people off, but my sole focus was me. Since I’ve been here, at RVC, it’s not that way.
I feel like I have a family again.