Despite Health Issues, Homeless Veteran Helps Others
By Rafael Stoneman, GCVF Mobile Veteran Outreach Director
I first met John Taylor, who most folks call JT, at a hotel in Ventura when I helped check him into Project Roomkey. As part of the statewide program, high-risk homeless people are placed in motel rooms so that they can shelter in place during the pandemic.
JT had to move out of the room he was renting because his friend’s family moved in and needed the space. Project Roomkey provided rooms for JT and 350 others. The folks being housed as part of Project Roomkey aren’t just numbers. They are folks like JT, a man who has served our country and is battling a number of health issues.
But he wasn’t looking for a handout. He was looking for a way to help.
Within five minutes of meeting JT, he offered to volunteer and assist with the work of helping homeless veterans find better living conditions.
The 69-year-old is an Air Force veteran who grew up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and moved to Detroit after graduating high school. After a few months in Detroit, JT joined the Air Force. It was 1970; he had a pregnant fiance and saw the military as a “way to provide for my family.”
His first duty station was Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. He was assigned to the Space Missile and Test Center and worked as an administrative clerk in a secure environment. During missile launches, he worked in the Launch Office Control Center.
After two years of service, JT suffered a lung disease. The barracks he lived in had asbestos, which is a possible cause of sarcoidosis. This led to kidney failure years later due in part to errors that Veterans Administration doctors made in their medical diagnosis and treatment.
A VA doctor prescribed Sansert for JT’s migraine headaches, which led to retroperitoneal fibrosis, an infection of the bladder that damages the ureter walls and leads to kidney failure. Over the next five years, the VA doctor failed to perform a blood test that would have prevented the complications that led to kidney failure.
In 1999, JT went to the Sepulveda Veterans Administration Medical Center in Los Angeles. The doctors there immediately sent him to the emergency room to perform stent procedures to drain his bladder in order to remove the urine poisoning from his system. When that procedure failed, he ended up in the hospital for 10 months. For the first 45 days of his stay, he had to be fed intravenously.
For 10 of the next 20 years, JT was so weak that he was unable to work and needed in-house care to assist with basic living needs.
Too many veterans have suffered this way at the hands of the Veterans Administration, which refuses to be accountable for its mistakes. If the VA had provided JT with proper medical treatment and given him his benefits when he got out of the service, it’s unlikely he’d be in this situation today.
Although he is in constant pain and the Veterans Administration continues to deny him many of the benefits he is entitled to, JT chooses to wake up every morning and take actions that prevent him from getting bogged down in negative thoughts about the obstacles he faces.
“I saw that the Mobile Veterans Outreach team was doing something to try to make a difference, something amazing, and I wanted to be a part of that. I choose to be a part of the solution to end veteran homelessness,” JT said.
Despite all the issues and complications brought on by falling through the cracks in the very system meant to protect him, JT is spending his time volunteering with us to help others who have fallen through the same cracks. JT has been using his artistic talents to help us design a tiny-home veteran village. Even though he has severe stomach pain on some days, JT continues to be motivated to help us find land and design and plan our veteran village concept.
JT got involved with the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation right when Project Happen began. Project Happen (Housing Appropriate for Each Need) is a grassroots advocacy program that provides an opportunity for formerly homeless veterans to participate in creating more affordable and sustainable housing options.
Project Happen promotes the use of appropriate housing such as tiny homes and RVs; this is a financially viable way to address our county’s lack of affordable housing. There are also multiple benefits to this kind of living arrangement. Not only do veterans get the opportunity to participate in creating and building their own living space, but it deepens their connections to both the community and to nature.
I know many veterans in our community would benefit from joining this program and we would love to hear from you. Even if you are bitter and resentful toward the Veterans Administration, it is never too late to take action and join us in ending veteran homelessness in Ventura County.
January 2, 2021 update: JT has moved into his new home after a combined 9 months of being homeless and being housed under Project Roomkey. The gallery below is active-duty military giving JT a hand with his move-in.