‘Well-loved’ Petaluma veterans home gets upgrades

The city-owned house was revamped with nonprofit and volunteer help.|

At the corner of Payran Street and Rocca Drive, roofers have been laying new shingles on an aging home that backs up to the Petaluma River.

This seemingly ordinary project bears quite a bit of significance to the people living inside it. Five previously homeless veterans navigating a life in recovery currently call it their home, but they were in jeopardy of being displaced without some sort of fiscal intervention.

Referred to simply as the “Rocca House,” the property is owned by the city and has been leased for $10 per year to the Veterans Resource Centers of America, or VRC, since 2004. The residence has been “well-worn and loved,” VRC site director Mary Haynes said with a laugh, and was in desperate need of improvements - the most expensive being a roof replacement.

With little cash available, several businesses and nonprofits stepped in to help realize the repairs, including new flooring, interior painting and landscaping to make it more low-maintenance.

“The veterans there are all so special,” Haynes said. “They really have their own community and camaraderie and we want them to be able to live in safe, healthy and beautiful, clean environment. There’s no way we’d be able to do it without the support of the community, and are profoundly grateful.”

Petaluma-based Wedge Roofing offered to cover cost for labor and the 50-year shingles being used for the roof replacement, a $16,000 project being done at no cost to the VRC.

“We always look for opportunities to give back to the community,” said Wedge Roofing CEO Ralph Wedge. “This was perfect. Not only does it help the community but it helps the veterans or any other person that may be homeless.”

Later this month, a group of volunteers from The Mankind Project and DSB+ Commercial Floor Finishes will tackle the rest of the project.

The carpet will be pulled up and replaced with tile or laminate. O’Brien Painting is refreshing the paint inside the house. There are also plans to install a shade structure and perform extensive landscaping outside.

Quarterbacking this entire effort is Rebuilding Together Petaluma, the local affiliate of a national nonprofit that assists low-income communities with repairs, accessibility modifications and energy efficient upgrades.

Jane Hamilton, executive director of the Petaluma nonprofit, said it’s thrilling to see these types of projects come together in a community with a knack for generosity.

“It’s so easy in Petaluma to get people to participate or want to help,” she said. “Because it’s such a connected community and everyone wants to help. People love to do hands-on giving where they can see that they are actually transforming another person’s life. It’s very personal.”

The VRC, whose North Bay headquarters is in Santa Rosa, has 14 sites in California, Nevada and Arizona that assist the people that served their country but then struggle to reintegrate back into it.

Using an array of services in a more holistic approach to getting clean, the Rocca House is a crucial facility in the VRC’s lifecycle of programs, Haynes said.

The Petaluma site is an eight-bed sober living environment that uses a structured residential program that includes chores, house meetings and active participation in individualized service plans for each tenant, according to a press release.

They pay month-to-month rent, receive clinical services and have to submit to random drug testing, the release said. The nonprofit also connects the tenants to other resources like Veterans Affairs.

The need for repairs had steadily mounted over the years, Haynes said, especially before the VRC transitioned the Rocca House to a new model earlier this year.

“We just haven’t had the extra funds to be able to do things like a major roof repair or redoing the floors,” Haynes said. “The program transitioned to a sober living model in July, so over the years the house has kind of taken a beating. It’s served a number of veterans, but is definitely in need.”

She said morale inside the house has gone up since the work began, providing the residents with a sense of community knowing that others in Petaluma are there to support them.

Joe Millsap, VRC communications manager, said these collaborations are the lifeblood of their entire program.

“Everywhere we operate, I don’t think it’s a reach to say everything we do we couldn’t do without someone else’s help,” he said.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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