Photos by Asia Morris
The City of Long Beach, in partnership with The Long Beach Community Investment Company and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles (Habitat LA) celebrated Friday the dedication of a rehabilitated single-family residence that provided first-time homebuyer and recently retired Air Force Veteran Roxana Gomez and her son Nazareth a home to call their own.
Gomez moved with her mother from El Salvador to California in 1981 and served in the United States Air Force for five years, completing tours in Kuwait and South Korea.
Now, she works as a veteran representative for an employment development agency and is a member of the South Bay Veteran Employment Committee Habitat LA’s Veterans Advisory Council (VAC).
“We were very fortunate to have left El Salvador because by the end of the war about 70,000 died, so we’re definitely blessed to have come this way,” Gomez said.
While she grew up in the U.S., more of her family moved to live with her and her mother. She saw her two male cousins join the navy and soon followed suit, joining the Air Force as the only individual in her family to join that branch. Once she completed her tours, she knew she needed to find another life for her and her son.
“Of course now I have a kitchen, and my coworker makes fun of me because I don’t cook, but now I will," Gomez said while laughing through tears.
She said she and her son, who is a budding soccer player, will spend most of their time in the huge backyard.
President and CEO of Habitat LA Erin Rank said they launched the veterans initiative called Habitat for Heroes three years ago. They then teamed up with the Veterans Advisory Council (VAC), made up of leaders and organizations throughout the veteran community who are serving veterans needs.
“Through that committee, we reach out to veterans and encourage them to get engaged and to work with us on our sites and to apply for home ownership and apply for jobs with Habitat [LA]," she said.
If they’re currently living in a home that needs repairs, Habitat LA has a veteran home repair program and will assist them with critical fixes, she added.
“Oftentimes they won’t seek out help, they’ll feel like someone else needs help more than they do, but we have special funding just for veterans so we’d like to get the word out,” said Rank.
According to Veronica Davalos, vice president of advocacy and community engagement for habitat, Habitat for Heroes has built and repaired nearly 100 homes and engaged approximately 4,000 veterans on the build sites since the program was initiated three years ago.
“Engagement is another really big push for us because of the feedback we’re receiving from the men and women recently coming back,” she said. “It’s important for them to get reconnected and reintegrated, so we make a big, big push for that as well. And so they’re on site all the time with us, doing this kind of work, it feels good for them.”
Gomez said the Sweat Equity hours she was required to complete before being able to own the home moved her. “It’s knowing that you’re not just building a home, you’re helping these families get their homes.”
“She is an inspiring woman because not only did she serve in the military, she’s a single mom raising her kid and she has dedicated her life to helping out other veterans," Rank said. "She’s a good example of a family that habitat would partner with.”
The two-bedroom, one-bath home on E. Cummings Lane in North Long Beach is one of four properties within the city that have been removed from foreclosure and renovated through funding provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Neighborhood Stabilization Program 3 (NSP3).
“I believe that veterans deserve a home, I believe that every veteran when they come back, from war, combat, should be given a home by this country," said Val Lurch, who serves on the VAC. "That’s what I truly believe. [...]I believe the words homeless and vets should never be side by side.”
For more information about Habitat LA and Habitat for Heroes, visit the website here.