Hundreds of homeless veterans in San Jose linked with permanent housing

The Bay Area observes Veterans Day with parades and celebrations. But in the South Bay, the occasion marks a turning point in a years-old battle to eliminate the number of vets living on the streets.
Slowed by age and scoliosis, 66-year-old Michael Bandanza had been living on San Jose streets for the past four years. It was an unwanted fate for the former Navy Seaman 3rd Class, who served in Vietnam. He no rents a room in downtown, due in large part to the efforts of the "HomeFirst" project to get homeless vets off the streets.
“Some guy saw my Vietnam hat, and I started talking to him. And he was with HomeFirst. And he hooked me up with a card, and that’s how things got started. I got this place. They got me a wheelchair,” said Bandanza, as he sat on the porch of the three-story Victorian house just south of the San Jose State University campus.
At San Jose’s annual Veterans Day Parade, city, county, and non-profit leaders announced the number of homeless vets is on the decline. This marks the first positive step for the effort that was started in 2015.
“The rate at which we are getting veterans housed is faster than the rate at which they’re getting pushed out the door,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. 
He said to date, 1,602 homeless vets have been linked with permanent housing via the All the Way Home project.
“We really worked with the veteran community and partnered with local veterans getting the word out. We also very early on, partnered with landlords,” said Maya Esparza, a member of the San Jose City Council representing Dist. 7.
Officials say there has been an uphill struggle to convince landlords that helping homeless vets is a brand of heroism, not a headache in the making. California Army National Guard Col. Ray Watts signed up for the program, had has had Jeff Wray living in his in-law unit the past three years.
“I just extended out a helping hand. And he’s been a great tenant,” said Watts. “It took a lot of courage and faith but, my wife has been supportive of everything I’ve done, especially with the military. But we are our brother’s keeper.”
Officials hope others will answer this new call to serve, to help other vets find a welcoming home.
“You can’t imagine how many people there are out there, just messed up,” said Bandanza.
Officials with HomeFirst said there are currently 653 homeless veterans still on the streets of San Jose. They believe that number will show a gradual decline in the coming years.