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

‘It saved my life’: Ex-Marine David Pedley gives back, helping homeless vets as he was once helped

David Pedley, who served in the Marines for 13 years, came to Santa Cruz in 2018 with nowhere to go and not much to live on. He was homeless for four months, but is now a building manager for Vets Hall, working to get other veterans the housing he once desperately needed.

David Pedley came to Santa Cruz from Arizona on a Greyhound bus in 2018 with nothing but the clothes on his back and $900 in his pocket.

He was homeless for four months, finding his way around the maze of streets in Santa Cruz, locating shelters and food pantries. A few weeks later, he came across Vets Hall, an organization Pedley said saved his life.

“Through the years working here I’ve come to find out we have a very unique thing here with how we help veterans get out of homelessness,” he said. “I am the proof in the pudding that the programs that we have work.”

The Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building, known as Vets Hall, received approval Wednesday on the purchase of an old Ben Lomond resort that will be used to provide permanent affordable housing for homeless veterans. The project is set to provide housing for about 16 veterans and their families, with a second phase that could provide an additional 40 spaces.

A Marine of 13 years and now the building manager of Vets Hall, Pedley said the new space has the potential to house more than half of Santa Cruz’s homeless veteran population. As building manager, he oversees the organization’s programs and operations.

Executive Director Chris Cottingham said it was stories like Pedley’s that inspired the Veterans Village project.

“He is the most stand-up guy I’ve ever met,” Cottingham said. “He is kind of a Marine’s Marine, and with that also has a heart of gold. He has not only been able to take advantage of some of the opportunities to build his life back up, but has had a real impact and is fully committed to the idea of continuing to do this for veterans.”

While in the service, Pedley worked as a range coach, taught combat courses, was a swim instructor and a chef. He was stationed all over the world, even in Antarctica, and said the only places he hasn’t been to are Europe and the North Pole.

After leaving the Marines in 2013, Pedley pursued a degree in restaurant management in Southern California, but after losing their home in 2016, he and his then-wife moved to Phoenix. Following a divorce and being in between jobs, Pedley decided to make the trip to Santa Cruz.

“I was kind of deciding where to go and so I blasted it out on Facebook Messenger,” he said. “And a Marine ended up calling me and was like, ‘David, just come to Santa Cruz, man, we’ll figure it out, we’ll be OK.’”

David Pedley is a formerly homeless veteran.
David Pedley, a formerly homeless veteran who now works at the Veterans Memorial Building, says the nonprofit’s mission is “of the utmost importance” for the local veterans community.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Pedley came across the Vets Hall on Veterans Service Day, a 30-year-old program that provides homeless veterans with hot meals and counseling every Wednesday. Pedley said that although the program was serving fish sandwiches — a meal he said he hates— he took advantage of the services offered.

“I mean, it saved my life,” he said. “While we do have a better grasp on supporting services and supporting vets now, it was more than enough when I came here.”

Since getting assistance that day, Pedley has become an example of the aid Vets Hall provides homeless veterans.

After working with Vets Hall to secure a Section 8 voucher, Pedley was able to find transitional housing. Around the same time, he started working at Vets Hall as a custodian.

“I hadn’t worked since I was homeless,” Pedley said. “It just felt really great to have a job, so I walked five miles each way for a four-hour shift.”

Cottingham said Pedley has made a huge impact on the organization.

“I think when it comes to working with anybody that’s looking to kind of get a leg up in life, and especially veterans, there’s relationship building that needs to happen,” he said. “And that’s where, David, being a 13-year Marine, as well as somebody that’s gone through those steps, is able to relate to them in a way that I don’t think anyone else could.”

After getting on his feet, Pedley said he was able to move away from using the Section 8 assistance and now rents his own home — which he shares with his wife and 4-month-old child — in Santa Cruz.

“It’s amazing — I mean, I have a career I want to do with the rest of my life,” Pedley said. “I came all the way back and have much more than I ever had before.”