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California homeless vets get first peek at new cargo container housing

By THERESA WALKER | The Orange County Register (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 12, 2017

MIDWAY CITY, Calif. – The first of 15 homeless military veterans who will live in the innovative Potter’s Lane housing complex constructed from cargo containers surveyed their soon-to-be new homes on Wednesday.

The three veterans, all baby boomers who served in the Army, were thrilled at their good fortune, even if the studio-size units are not complete. Painting, flooring, furnishing and landscaping must be finished before they can move in next month.

Meanwhile, the veterans, all with health problems, are staying next door in the Jackson Street shelter run by American Family Housing, the nonprofit developing Potter’s Lane. They transitioned there about two weeks ago from the streets.

“This is all I need,” said Mario Melendez, 53, leaning on his cane inside one of the bare bones 480-square-foot studios fashioned from three modified containers.

Melendez served in the Army from 1981 to 1984. He lost his San Clemente apartment in 2015 after failing health left him unable to continue his job as an orthotic technician. He had to undergo a liver transplant.

Melendez has been homeless for more than a year, sleeping in a tent pitched on the banks of the Santa Ana River near Angel Stadium or in local parks. He said he hopes his health improves enough to return to work.

Potter’s Lane will be the nation’s first permanent housing for the homeless built with shipping containers. The 8-by-20-foot containers used in the project were supplied by GrowthPoint Structures, a Los Angeles-based firm that has built schools and custom homes from cargo containers that once carried dry goods.

Kenneth Salazar, 60, and James “Jimmy” Palmiter, 59, also are eager to settle in.

Palmiter joined the Army at the tail end of the Vietnam War, when he was barely 17, because he needed a job. But he stayed stateside. Palmiter, who has suffered head injuries and a broken hip, worked in construction and other odd jobs but has been homeless the past five years.

Palmiter hugged his black pocket poodle, Fifi, under his sweatshirt against the cold air. He’ll turn 60 a few days after the Feb. 8 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the two-story, 16-unit Potter’s Lane complex.

“They’re already talking about throwing me a party,” said Palmiter, who would sleep with Fifi on a twin mattress in the back of his 1998 Ford Windstar van.

Salazar, 60, who grew up in Whittier, spent three years in the Army, most of it stationed in Germany, after enlisting in the summer of 1974. In the decade before he became homeless, he slept in his parents’ cars in their driveway while he took care of them. His father died in 2004 and his mother 10 years later.

Salazar has kidney problems and suffers from anemia. He said he was always cold sleeping in the open-sided Courtyard shelter near the Santa Ana Civic Center that opened in October, especially when the wind whipped through. He later stayed at the Salvation Army’s Hospitality House.

He said he relishes the sense of responsibility and ownership of living in his own place. And the warmth: “The nicest thing for me is I get a bed and a heater.”

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©2017 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com
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Army veteran Jimmy Palmiter holds his dog, fifi, as workers put the finishing touches on Potter's Lane in Midway City, California, January 11, 2017. Potter's Lane is a housing complex built with recycled shipping container for homeless veterans.
JEFF GRITCHEN, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/SCNG

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