Retired Marine struggles against homelessness
Ray Light was understandably feeling stressed out.
A distinguished Marine veteran of the Korean War, Light had recently had to give up his mobile home because the land near Johnson Creek Boulevard was sold to a new owner who had different plans for the property.
Light, 87, was running out of options in April after he had to spend $300 a month on storage for his possessions. He drained his bank account of $2,400 to stay at a Ramada Inn until he again faced eviction.
Asked to recall the days when he contemplated life as a homeless person in a wheelchair, Light would only say that he was “feeling discouraged.” He noted that an adage from his military days gave him hope for perseverance: “You can tell a Marine, but you can’t tell him much.”
It would be Milwaukie American Legion Veterans Service Officer Jim Rolison, a Vietnam War veteran, who first told Light that his impending homelessness wasn’t inevitable. Rolison is one of four board members who manage the Corporal Diffie Veterans Fund, which has a mission of closing the gap in the timeframe between when Clackamas County veterans need help and when other veteran services can respond.
A veteran of two combat tours in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Cpl. Samuel Diffie was the fund’s namesake. Milwaukie Police Officer Brad Walther realized that the veteran resources could not respond quickly enough to resolve the immediate medical and lodging needs that veterans like Diffie faced.
Walther used personal funds to pay for Diffie’s food and apartment for eight months before Diffie unexpectedly died from natural causes connected to his medical concerns in January 2018. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Diffie Fund is unique and has expanded beyond Milwaukie. Lake Oswego and Molalla police sergeants also carry $300 credit cards, funded through the American Legion, for the immediate needs of a veteran or veteran’s family. Once the credit card pays for food and shelter for a few days, police can request additional funding through the veterans outreach team at the Legion.
A revered member of the Milwaukie community since the 1950s, Light had run out of money for the hotel but was lucky to have Rolison on his side. Rolison called an emergency meeting of the Veterans Fund Board to release $1,500 for keeping a roof over Light’s head.
“I raced up there with a check for the Ramada Inn to keep him from getting kicked out,” Rolison said.
Rolison thanked Walther, a Marine veteran who served in Desert Storm as a communication chief, for putting him in touch with Milwaukie Behavioral Health Specialist Glen Suchanek. In turn, Suchanek kept the process moving for Light, which included critical assistance, according to Rolison, from Father’s Heart Street Ministry Case Manager Don Holden.
Clackamas County’s housing services eventually took over the case through the assembled team’s assistance and secured Light his rental assistance voucher. He says he appreciates the wheelchair accessibility to a washer/dryer and regular garbage pickup at a new apartment complex in Milwaukie called Seven Acres.
Rolison wishes that the process could have been more straightforward for Light and that there were more services for veterans and non-veterans facing homelessness in Oregon who are falling through the cracks.
Rolison said that he regularly helps homeless veterans who are sleeping in their cars or contemplating suicide as they struggle with PTSD. While he’s had many other success stories like Light’s, Rolison knows that more must be done in Clackamas County to ensure all veterans can be housed.
Rolison and Light are looking forward to the arrival of an electric scooter so that Light can more easily visit the Post offices.
“I can keep assisting Ray because we have meals here nearly seven days a week, and we’re almost always open,” Rolison said.