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Navy Veteran And Single Father Finds Comfort And Safety Now That He Has A “Place to Call His Own”

Russell joined the United States Navy in 1986, proudly serving his country in Long Beach and Japan aboard the USS Knox until 1989.

When a severe back injury forced him to return to the States, Russell enrolled at Long Beach State University and graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. 

Following graduation, he worked in insurance claims and maintained steady jobs until 2014. However, through all of those working years, his medical conditions continued to worsen. Russell underwent more than half a dozen surgeries on his hand, arm, elbow and neck. The pain eventually became too much and he was unable to continue working.

Without a stable income, Russell could no longer afford to pay his rent and was forced into homelessness, sleeping on couches when he could find them. “I lost everything in 2014. I lost my job, I couldn’t afford to the pay the rent, and I no longer had a place to call my own. That was a hard and challenging time,” Russell recalled.  

In 2016, Russell’s ex-wife became ill and he moved into her home to take care of their son, Nathaniel, a bright, kind and then 13-year-old living with autism spectrum disorder. 

When his ex-wife passed away in 2017, Russell was forced to leave a stable housing environment again, but this time with Nathaniel. 

For the next four years, Russell struggled to find a proper living situation for himself and his son. “I worked hard to find higher paying jobs but my medical conditions prohibited me from doing so,” he explained. “For many years, we were just trying to survive. All I wanted for my son at the time was safety.”  

Russell and Nathaniel’s luck took a major positive turn in March 2021, when he received a HUD VASH voucher, and was connected with Orange County United Way’s WelcomeHomeOC program. The program helped him find a place that would accept his housing voucher in less than 60 days, paid his security deposit fees and furnished his new two-bedroom apartment.  

“Without United Way’s help, we wouldn’t be where we are now. The team was eager to help, got us housed quickly and my stress level is no longer where it was, which makes everything all the more important,” said Russell. “My son finally sleeps through the night because we have wonderful new furniture, and we cook meals together with the items we were provided.” 

Thanks to United Way’s support and his unwavering faith, Russell is looking forward to watching Nathaniel grow up and enjoy life in a safe and stable environment. “He is thriving at school and is on the varsity swim team,” Russell said, smiling. “I’m so grateful to be where we are at this stage in life.”