“It’s been a long hard road, and I’m glad it’s over.” These are the words of Julie, a formerly homeless veteran who recently moved into a new Jamboree affordable apartment. Julie and her son found homes at Heroes Landing, Orange County’s largest permanent supportive housing community exclusively for veterans.
Julie’s story began in a suburban Southern California neighborhood where she’d been adopted by caring parents, but like many teenagers, had issues at home, was frequently picked on by others, and seemed to get into a lot of fights. She wanted a way to start over, and went to college. After one year, she decided to enlist and celebrated her 19th birthday in Army boot camp.
Julie served three years on active duty followed by 14 years in the reserves. While on active duty she met and married her husband, also military, and over the next few years they had two sons, followed by twin boys.
The couple eventually divorced, and Julie found herself on her own, working two and three jobs to support her four boys. All four boys have mental health issues. Today, her sons are grown. The oldest is stable in a board and care, while the twins are in and out of jail and struggle with homelessness. Her second oldest son followed Julie by serving in the Army. Today, he also has a new apartment home at Heroes Landing.
Julie was at her last job for nearly 20 years, and today is on permanent disability with PTSD. Both Julie and her son now have access to a variety of supportive services through the Heroes Landing Community Collaborative, a nexus of community partners that provides specialized services onsite at no cost. This includes legal assistance for she and her son as they struggle to secure visitation rights for his son and her grandson. She’s taking yoga classes to strengthen her knee after a recent surgery, and looks forward to welcoming her new therapy dog, Mallie, next month and using the pet-friendly property’s dog run.
Julie looks back over her struggle to find affordable housing for her family, and estimates she’s probably moved more than 30 times since leaving home, in a downward spiral from apartments, to room rentals, to transitional housing. Her biggest regret is the damage caused by her sons’ father and her absence as a single working mother. “That’s how my kids ended up in the system twice – and that did more damage than help.”
She did the best with what she had, saying, “I just wish I’d had something like this when my kids were little, with the services to help them. Maybe they wouldn’t be where they are today,” adding, “I wouldn’t wish the struggles with my sons’ mental health issues on my worst enemy.”
When asked what she hopes people will take away from her story, Julie said, “Never give up. When life gets you down, get back up.” She credits her faith, church, and family with getting her through challenges. Looking around her apartment she adds, “I’m 52, and this is the first time I’ve lived on my own, without roommates or husbands or kids. I still have a bit of anxiety and sleep with the light on. But I just keep pinching myself – I’m so shocked at how nice it is, and that it’s all mine.”