When James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica cranked out “The Star-Spangled Banner” at SAP Center on Monday night, there was no more attentive audience than the men and women in the city’s luxury suite. Hands over their hearts, nearly all of them veterans — some homeless, others recently housed — who had been invited by Mayor Sam Liccardo to enjoy the Stanley Cup Finals game in style.
“It really is a fantastic opportunity,” said Steve Vincent, a wheelchair-bound veteran in the Army 18th Airborne who lives in Veterans Housing in San Jose. “I’ve only seen the games on TV, and that’s what I’d be doing without this. I really do appreciate it.”
Craig Newhouse, whose served stateside in the Army during the Vietnam War, finally got into a one-bedroom apartment on May 28 after living on the streets. He’s a big Sharks fan, too: A braid of his long silver hair hung over the Sharks logo on the back of his jacket. But he’d never been to a game before.
“I’m amazed at how they’ve gotten all this together to help the homeless vets,” Newhouse said.
Two dozen veterans were invited to the once-in-a-lifetime experience courtesy of the Arena Authority and the mayor, who provided use of the suite to Destination: Home, a program of the Health Trust that is working to end homelessness in Santa Clara County. They were treated like royalty, with food and soft drinks paid for by Destination: Home, and souvenir T-shirts and hats on their seats. Even S.J. Sharkie paid a visit in the first period.
The amazing tribute came together quickly late last week, and Destination: Home Executive Director Jennifer Loving reached out to other groups — Goodwill Silicon Valley, HomeFirst, Sunnyvale Community Services, Veterans Resource Centers and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — to fill the seats with veterans. Those groups have been partners in the All the Way Home campaign, an effort launched by Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese last Veterans Day to find housing for the more than 700 homeless veterans in Santa Clara County.
And there’s been progress. Since the campaign’s start in November, the number of veterans searching for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, housing has dropped from 260 to 206. In the first three months of this year, 130 veterans have been housed through rapid rehousing and 22 faith-based organizations have signed on to the campaign.
“This is a nice opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the men and women of our armed forces, particularly those who faced and overcame challenges after returning home from their service,” said Liccardo, who greeted the veterans outside SAP Center before the game and hung out with them in the suite. “However, there’s still much more work to do. We have a moral obligation to ensure that everyone who faithfully served our country has a roof over their heads.”
Corey Friccero understands that obligation. In the Air Force, the Santa Clara native served his country during both Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. When he returned home just before the economy crashed in 2008, he found himself in a downward job spiral until he was camping in creek beds and eventually found himself in county jail.
The 34-year-old learned about VA services available to him for the first time while he was at Elmwood, and he made use of them. He found a landlord willing to work with his situation and has had a place to live in San Jose for the past 20 months. Now, he works as a veterans social worker for Goodwill Silicon Valley, making sure other vets know what resources are available to them.
“I’ve been to Sharks games before, but never a playoff game and never like this,” said Friccero, who added that it was a great gesture toward the men and women who have served. “It’s reaching down and taking a hand and helping them up.”