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Good Samaritan opens Freedom House for veterans in Orcutt

An American flag gently blows in the wind from the front porch on the distinctive yellow house in Old Town Orcutt. It’s the first sign the home on First Street is a place now home to a special group of veterans.

“This is a blessing to be here at this place,” said Pat Villegas. “I’ve been waiting for it. Waiting for it. I’m just happy to be here.”

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Since he returned back last year to the Central Coast where he grew up, it’s been a tough go for the 61-year-old Army veteran.

“I was homeless when I got here,” Villegas said. “Things didn’t work out, didn’t have a job. I’m disabled and things were hard.”

Complicating his life, was a difficult battle with alcohol. However, last November, Villegas finally started to turn his life around when he entered into a rehabilitation program with Good Samaritan Shelter.

“I went through the 90 days veteran’s program there,” said Villegas. “Good Sam helped me out through all of the veteran’s programs. Now, I’m getting my health back. I’ve even got a company, Santa Maria Kid, it’s my business that I started, so things are going on.”

Villegas is now observing one-year of sobriety. Last week, he was the first person to move into the “Freedom House,” a new residence owned by Good Samaritan Shelter.

Veterans will be able to live in the house as long as they need, giving them a comfortable and stable place to reside where they as they rebuild their lives.

“Most of these are vets that are going through our programs,” said Kirsten Cahoon, Good Samaritan Director of Shelter Operations. “It will be dedicated 100 percent to veterans that are experiencing homelessness.”

Like Villegas, Santa Maria native Thomas Kober has also experienced life on the streets while battling addiction.

“Had some problems when I got out of the military with substance abuse and some PTSD,” said Thomas Kober. “I was living out of my car for about a year, and was on the street and didn’t have anywhere to go as a support.”

One year later, after going through rehabilitation with Good Samaritan, the 34-year-old Navy veteran is on a different path.

“They’re helping me with going back to Allan Hancock College and working towards a psychology degree to get into the counseling field to help other people that are in a similar situation as I am,” said Kober.

Kober is set to move into the house later this week.

“Knowing that I’m going to be staying in a stable environment and not have to worry about where I’m waking up tomorrow or where to sleep is big, it’s one big weight lifted off the shoulders,” said Kober.

The six-bedroom, three-bathroom home will eventually house six veterans, one for each room. It will give residents a clean and sober structured environment.

A case manager, who is also a veteran, will be at the house 15-20 weeks to help with any adjustments and needs.

“We really feel like this is the perfect example of what is going to make our guys successful and just be a stepping stone for them to move on, to buying their own home the next time around and giving them what they need to stay stable,” said Cahoon.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the opening of this house couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s a holiday the vets say they’ll get to enjoy, especially due to the contributions of the upcoming KCOY Turkey Drive.

The drive, which is set for Thursday, Nov. 17 will collect turkeys for Good Samaritan clients, and others in need in Northern Santa Barbara County.

Turkeys collected in San Luis Obispo County will benefit the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.

A turkey collected during the drive will be part of Thanksgiving dinner at the Freedom House.

“I’m waiting for Thanksgiving and a nice turkey this year,” said Villegas. “I’ll be able to serve it. I’ll be able to carve it. This is my kitchen here and I’m taking pride in it.”

The Freedom House was acquired by Good Samaritan earlier this year with financial approval from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

Good Samaritan received $475,000 from money obtained by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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