The Community Foundation's Susan True hugs the Veteran Memorial Building's Chris Cottingham on Wednesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Just in time for Veterans Day: Village for homeless vets becomes a reality with site in Ben Lomond

The former Jaye’s Timberlane Resort will house as many as 40 in its dwellings. “This project is led by veterans for veterans,” said Vets Hall executive director Chris Cottingham. “And the village atmosphere will support community as well as self-sufficiency.”

A “Veterans Village” is set become more than just a pandemic-era dream.

With the help of some key community partners, the Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building is bringing the first step of its dream of a village community for homeless veterans to fruition.

The Veterans Memorial Building on Front St. in downtown Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The nonprofit announced Wednesday, in partnership with the Santa Cruz County Foundation and Santa Cruz County Bank, that it had gone into escrow on a 6-acre property in Ben Lomond that will immediately house 16-18 people, with potential plans to expand that to 40.

“Our veterans cannot afford to live in Santa Cruz and many struggle to get by on their current benefits,” said Chris Cottingham, executive director of the Vets Hall. “As we see more veterans come home from Afghanistan in need of support and community, the time is now to develop a solution for permanent supportive housing for our Santa Cruz County veterans.”

Officials for the veterans organization said there are also ongoing discussions about a property in Watsonville that could fill a similar need in South County, with a goal of housing many more.

“If we can change the numbers by taking 120 off the street, that frees up those services to those folks who are not veterans,” said Charles “Stoney” Brook, a member of the county’s human services commission.

Marine veteran David Pedley.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Veterans are already living at the former Jaye’s Timberlane Resort off Highway 9 in Ben Lomond, the property that was purchased Wednesday. It has a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house and 10 cabins with their own bathrooms and kitchens.

“This felt like a real solution and we’re just trying to be some momentum behind this group’s dream,” said Community Foundation leader Susan True. “We have already screened 50 veterans who are eligible. So as soon we close (escrow), we’ll be ready to move people in. Unlike a project that you’re trying to build where it could take years and years for a solution, we’ll have veterans housed in January, February.”

Cottingham said there were a few other properties being looked at but “that something about that property spoke to us. There is a tranquility up there in the redwoods.”

"Stoney" Brook.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Brook said he is often asked, “why veterans first,” in the battle for affordable housing.

“Veterans have consciously given up a portion of their life to serve the country, so if you’ve got to prioritize it’s better to do that with folks who have given something up for their country,” he said.

The Community Foundation will provide low-interest financing for the project in conjunction with Santa Cruz County Bank. The foundation has also launched the Veterans Village Fund with a $75,000 matching grant. All donations in November up to $75,000 will be matched by the Community Foundation.