Mathew Robie has always considered himself handy. He worked on helicopters for aviation ordinance as a Marine, serving from 1998 to 2002. A self-proclaimed survivor who does his best with what he has, he didn’t immediately reach out to VA for help when times were tough.
When Robie realized he no longer could afford the compounding bills required to maintain his home, he shifted gears. Carrying on the Marine attitude of “Improvise, adapt, overcome,” he moved into his truck, determined to turn his hardship into an opportunity to see more of the country he had served.
When Robie was ready to retire his life on the open road, he returned to California where he was born and raised. Just as he was enjoying the return to his roots, a fire in August 2020 forced Robie to evacuate the area. Also in the fire’s path of destruction were his hopes of finding a new place to live.
Does what he can to convince Veterans to reach out to VA
He packed his bags once more and resumed his travels. Along the way, Robie met another Veteran displaced by the fire. Their discussions revealed a fundamental difference in their experiences post-fire: Robie’s friend already was living in stable and affordable housing, secured with the help of VA.
From hope to housing
His new friend’s success was the catalyst Robie needed to inquire about the resources VA could offer him. The VA Palo Alto Health Care System stepped in to help Robie find a new home in the San Lorenzo Valley, only a few hours from where he grew up. The HUD-VASH team also connected him with a nonprofit in his town that offered to pay his move-in costs.
“They helped quite a bit,” Robie said. “They helped me deal with older bills, fixing my truck and having somewhere safe to live and be.”
When he was introduced to his HUD-VASH case manager, Emy Fehmi, Robie was grateful to have someone who could support his transition and any arising needs. However, neither could anticipate just how powerful Fehmi’s help would be in improving Robie’s circumstances.
For many, experiencing a power outage may happen once in a blue moon, during a bad storm, extreme wind, or formidable winter weather. But in San Lorenzo, frequent outages are the norm.
In less than two months, Robie lost power 17 times. Sometimes it would go off for one hour, while in other instances, Robie was without power for days at a time.
Told fellow Veterans to talk to VA
The Isakson-Roe act authorized VA to use appropriated funds for homeless Veterans and those enrolled in the HUD-VASH program during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Section 4201 makes it possible for VA to purchase food, personal items, household goods, shelter and, in Robie’s case, a generator that would greatly improve his quality of life.
In October 2021, VA provided Robie with a generator that would keep the power flowing to his home in any condition, even if the region’s utility provider was unable to continue service to the area.
“Robie is very used to having to make things work and survive,” said Fehmi of his situation. “He could make it through any of these hardships without the generator, but I hope it makes things easier on him.”
Now that Robie is happily in stable, safe housing, he does what he can to help convince other Veterans to reach out to VA. “I’ve told quite a few friends to talk to the representatives at VA, wherever they’re at,” he added. “It’s worth it.”
Learn about VA programs
- Read more about how the 4201 authority helps VA provide flexible assistance to homeless Veterans.
- Read more about the HUD-VASH program to determine if you are eligible to receive rental assistance.
- Veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
- Visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn about housing initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
- For more stories like these, visit the HPO website and subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.