‘I can sleep now’: Homeless veteran finds safe haven at Chuck Austin Place in Yakima

YAKIMA, Wash. — After three years of being intermittently homeless, veteran Ralph Harvey and his wife of 30 years, Becky, have moved into a new apartment at the Chuck Austin Place veterans housing development and services center in Yakima.

“The first day that we came in here, I looked in the apartment and I fell in love with it,” Harvey said. “I can lock my door and not have to worry about anything. I can put my head down and I can go to sleep.”

Harvey said it’s been difficult these past few years;  they’ve been able to live off and on with friends and family, but have also slept in motels, shelters, tents and on the streets.

At one point, he said the whole family — Becky, Harvey and their cat, Henry — were living on the streets of Seattle about a block away from the ferry terminal when strangers threatened them, saying they would get a gun and shoot them.

“They were gonna kill all three of us,” Harvey said. “I wanted off the streets. I wanted out of that tent because it was getting cold. I was worried about my wife, Becky, and Henry’s safety more than my own.”

Harvey said he was reluctant to trust in the new place and was frustrated that the application process seemed to take a long time, but it was worth it to find his new home.

“I am very, very grateful for being here,” Harvey said. “I feel more safe. I don’t have to worry about somebody coming up on us and hurting us.”

RELATED: Yakima’s homeless veterans get new start at Chuck Austin Place

Harvey and his wife moved into the one-bedroom apartment in September. He said since they’re relying on their Social Security benefits right now, having income-based rent payments is a huge help.

“I’m not working because I can’t find a job,” Harvey said. “I’ve put applications out there and things like that and no one’s calling me.”

Harvey said he has veteran friends who are still homeless and would benefit from someone reaching out to them and encouraging them to apply for a spot at Chuck Austin Place.

“I want to see some veterans get into a place where they can call their own and not have to worry,” Harvey said.

Harvey said it’s especially important to reach out to those veterans now, before winter hits.

“The older ones that are out on the streets, the veterans, they’re not gonna make it,” Harvey said. “They’re getting old. They’ve got health problems like I do.”

Harvey served for a year in the Army National Guard when he was in his early 20s, but was injured in a cattle truck accident during basic training. He said they were on their way to the weapons range when the driver pulled over, got out of the truck and went to speak with a sergeant across the road.

“I don’t know what was said but when he came back, he was really upset; he was mad,” Harvey said.

Harvey said the driver slammed the truck door and when he tried to make a sharp turn, the trailer snapped. There hadn’t been enough room for everyone to sit, so Harvey was the only one standing in between two metal poles when the accident happened.

“It was like somebody had just come over and went with a two-by-four and hit me right in the back,” Harvey said. “My legs buckled and I went down.”

Harvey’s had two back surgeries and while doctors want to do a third surgery to put a rod in his back and fuse his spine, he’s declined at this point in time.

“As long as I can walk and I have my wife with me, I’m gonna walk,” Harvey said.

Harvey said he’d like to see more community organizations involved with helping veterans and more programs that would give them a chance to get out of the house. He said because he and his wife don’t have a car and he’s not working right now, there are few opportunities available to them.

Additionally, he wants to see Chuck Austin Place fill up and wants to encourage public officials to start looking into another unused property like the Yakima Armory to repurpose into something that could help more veterans.

“Let’s get these veterans, our homeless veterans, off the streets,” Harvey said. “I’m off the streets. I was homeless. I’m not homeless now.”

Harvey said there’s at least one empty building downtown he thinks would be an ideal location for another affordable housing development for veterans. He said as a veteran who has experienced homelessness, he would like to sit down with City of Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers and any other public officials who might be interested in listening to his perspective.

Local veterans interested in applying for housing at Chuck Austin Place can contact Maritza Dimas with the Yakima Housing Authority at 509-453-3106 ext. 140 or at maritza.dimas@yakimahousing.org. They can also contact Ashleigh Kilgore with the Yakima Housing Authority at ashleigh.kilgore@yakimahousing.org

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