MIDWAY CITY, Calif. (AP) — Vernon Poling was 44 years old when he finally got a home of his own.
The Iraq War veteran was medically discharged from the Army in 2014, had to quit his trucking job for medical reasons, and found himself living out of his pickup last year in Orange County, a sprawling area of Southern California known for beaches, Disneyland and high housing costs.
Poling was homeless for seven months before he found temporary housing in the area. He then learned about Potter’s Lane, an apartment complex made from recycled shipping containers, just for homeless veterans. It’s believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S.
On a sunny Friday in April, Poling walked into his 480-square-foot (45-square-meter) apartment for the first time, set down his backpack on his new floor and took it all in.
“I have never had a place of my own,” Poling said. “I got out of high school, I tried working. I was still living with the parents. I joined the Army at 23, active duty. Then I was staying with Uncle Sam in the barracks … To finally have my own place, it feels really good.”
Poling was the last of 15 homeless veterans to move into Potter’s Lane, a $6.7 million project paid for with federal, state and local dollars, donations and money from the nonprofit behind the project, American Family Housing, among other sources.
The apartments could easily belong to San Francisco tech workers or hipsters in Los Angeles’ trendy Arts District. Each of the 15 furnished units are made of three shipping containers pieced together and spiffed up with faux wood flooring, drywall and floor-to-ceiling windows on two of four walls. They include artwork and homemade quilts, and overlook a courtyard that includes a giant American flag, a garden, grills and picnic tables.
American Family Housing wanted to make sure the complex’s design built on the strength of the U.S. military, said Donna Gallup, the group’s president.
“All of the units look over the courtyard so that they can watch each other’s backs and develop that community and that sense of belonging,” she said.
The men now living at Potter’s Lane were among 350 homeless veterans in Orange County.
The county’s homeless population is much smaller than that of neighboring Los Angeles, but it’s expanding. Orange County has about 4,800 homeless people overall, a 13 percent increase since 2013, according to Point-in-Time, a group that tracks homelessness.
Potter’s Lane is a positive step forward, but with just 15 apartments, it’s…