NORTH BEND — A once-dilapidated home sitting on the highway has undergone a significant transformation, and the home's owners are nearly ready for it to start transforming lives, too.
Inside on most days, Patrick Wright is working. Either working on the building itself, or working to secure funding for future projects, Wright's goals come out of his own experience as a Marine Corps veteran.
"I got a four-day class in how to be a civilian," Wright says.
Aware of the challenges that veterans face in life after service and after experiencing his own years of homelessness, Wright set out in 2016 to end homelessness among Coos County's veterans.
Now, in spite of the financial challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wright's nonprofit is nearing completion on Bryan's Home, a multi-family living space for veterans getting out of homelessness. Operation Rebuild Hope plans to finish the facility in the next month, if it can secure the funding to do so.
Named after Bryan Bertrand, a Coos Bay native who was the first Oregonian to die in the middle eastern wars after 9/11, the building will have eight rooms for residents: two for men, two for women, two for disable veterans and two for veterans with families.
The building is designed as a step-up from the nonprofit's other housing solution, an emergency housing facility that offers shared living space for up to 90 days. The rooms at Bryan's Home are meant to be more permanent, and more individual, Wright says.
"We're not just giving them a bed to sleep in and hoping their life gets better," Wright said.
Instead, the home includes services, and a community of other residents.
Camilo Pardo has been the nonprofit's case manager for about a month.
"If I get one success story, it really is rewarding," Pardo said. "I consider myself a success story."
Pardo gets his inspiration to do the work from his own experience, he said. He spent seven years in the Marine Corps, and had a challenging period when trying to navigate his return to civilian life.
Since then, he spent time as a research manager at Oregon Health & Sciences University and began doing some counseling. Once he heard about the open position at Operation Rebuild Hope, that "tugged on (his) heart" a little more, giving him reason to move to Coos County, he said.
Now, as case manager, Pardo spends his time re-navigating many of the systems he went through after leaving the military — but this time, he does it for the nonprofit's residents. Getting one individual into addiction treatment has been one of the organization's biggest successes, thanks to Pardo.
"We've been able to knock down a lot of barriers," Pardo said. "I'm busy."
Even things that seem like they should be simple come with barriers that can be all but impossible to navigate for homeless veterans without a guide like Pardo. Getting into certain treatment programs, for example, requires multiple appointments and legal documents, and the process has to start over if even one of those steps is missing.
Making sure that veterans have the appropriate identification and VA forms all falls in Pardo's area of expertise, too. He's working to become a certified case manager during his first year with the nonprofit.
"There's always forks in the road," Pardo said. "To help everybody else take the right road, that's what keeps me going."
The nonprofit has helped about two dozen veterans so far — though they "never leave Operation Rebuild Hope," Wright says.
For the nonprofit's leaders, Bryan's Home isn't only about the veterans it'll be able to house — it's about the impact the construction can have on the community, too.
"It's a community building," said Angie Archer, ORH's marketing manager and a veteran of the Air Force.
Many of the materials used to renovate the 150-year-old building and much of the labor involved was donated, Archer said. Whatever wasn't donated came from local companies, even if out-of-area companies could have been more efficient.
The organization wants the building to have a ripple effect, by keeping the project's funding within the community, Archer and Wright said. The two grew up in the area and graduated from local high schools.
"Nobody's going to come into Coos Bay to do it," Archer said.
While the house is almost done, there's still a bit of work to go. The interior doors they've ordered, for example, won't be ready until December unless they can find another supplier.
The nonprofit's also had a challenging time securing the right funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wright said. Some state and nonprofit grants dried up when the pandemic hit, and others changed their criteria for prioritizing projects.
Now, the group needs around $30,000 to finish the job. After Bryan's Home is done, ORH plans to expand its emergency housing to include spaces for women and is in the development process for a tiny home village, the last step in the organization's housing plan.
Wright hopes that community members and state grant agencies will recognize the project's potential value and chip in to the effort.
"It's not always just what our mission is," Wright said. "It's what the value of our mission is to the community."