May 27 at 8:15am

A fresh start for once-homeless veteran

Tim faced a choice when he came to the Haven House emergency winter shelter at Interfaith Community Services last December.

Homeless for about a year, the Navy veteran, 60, had changed direction several times after his discharge from the military. He came close to finishing a biology degree at University of California, San Diego, but left three months before graduation, saying he just had too many things on his plate at the time.

Tim hopped from one job to the next in sales, retail, and health-care, and even spent four years working the graveyard shift at a few 7/11 convenience stores. But after getting robbed at gunpoint three separate times in his last position, he decided to try going back to health-care. He took aim at becoming a phlebotomist – the technician who draws blood from people at labs and in hospitals – but was derailed when the death of a friend he was caring for left him devastated.

The turmoil landed landed Tim on the street – where he was mugged once, cited several times by the police, and eventually found himself smoking marijuana on a regular basis.

After about a year of living homeless, Tim learned about the Haven House winter shelter at Interfaith’s headquarters in Escondido and came looking for a place to sleep. Shelter director Doug Ferris gave him his choice: You can keep smoking pot or you can come into the shelter.

“I said, ‘Yes sir,’ and I’ve been clean ever since,” Tim said.

Once settled, Tim jumped right back into getting his life on track. He enrolled in financial literacy and job orientation courses and also signed up with the homeless court program hosted by Interfaith in order to clean up his slate of unpaid fines totaling $3,200. Ferris pushed him to learn about options available to him as a military veteran.

The genial veteran also made himself invaluable to Ferris and the others operating the winter shelter. “Whenever we needed extra help, Tim was there with his hand up (to volunteer),” said Ferris. “We probably took advantage of him – he was always there!”

After a month in the shelter, McVeen was transitioned to Merle’s Place, Interfaith’s veterans residence in Escondido. There he has again impressed people with his positive attitude and dedication.

“He’s a pleasure to work with. He’s a very good guy. He’s very determined to become self-sufficient and to get back on his feet,” said Hillary Fuel, McVeen’s case manager. “He’s always happy. He’s always positive about something; even when he’s having a bad day, he still always ends it with something positive.”

Since entering Merle’s Place, McVeen has completed his phlebotomy classes at U.S. Colleges in San Marcos with top grades.

He’s working on completing his certification as a phlebotomist, needing to finish an externship at a local lab before he can be certified to draw blood. He’s hoping to be able to receive his licenses and to be able to seek work in his field sometime in August.

Tim is grateful for the help he received from Interfaith, which included helping to pay for his classes, his scrubs, and his shoes, allowing him to pursue a career that he enjoys. “The programs and the people here have been great,” he said. “I feel like I’ve grown and made a lot of progress and learned the things that were maybe my pitfalls in my previous life. I guess you could say I’m starting fresh.”

Ferris is confident Tim will succeed.

“I think it’s amazing when you look at where he was a year ago and where he is today, it’s something,” Ferris said. “It shows that if you put time and effort into something you want badly enough, you’re going to get it done.”