Jefferson Award Winner Furnishes Formerly Homeless Veterans’ New Apartments

homeless veterans

It’s a common conundrum and one we rarely consider. A homeless person is placed into housing, usually after waiting years. The initial feeling is one of pride, happiness, and relief. Transitioning from a shelter bed, a little tent, or a pallet shelter the size of a prison cell to an affordable home is enough to bring even the most hardened individual to tears of joy.

Formerly homeless people often speak of being handed the keys for the first time and how the experience changed them, always for the better. But after this initial joy wears off, a new reality replaces it. These homes are often unfurnished.

Social workers across the country field calls from newly housed individuals sitting in dwellings the equivalent of an empty box. Their homes have no beds, no refrigerators, no tables, chairs, or light fixtures. 

Without these things, life as a newly housed person can feel a bit empty. This is not to mention the impracticality of trying to survive without these necessities.

Add to this the trauma of having served in the United States military only to return from war scarred and discarded by the very society you vowed on the battlefield to protect. In many ways, homeless veterans face unique obstacles even after reaching the milestone of becoming housed. 

For several years, John Helin, described by CBS News as formerly homeless himself, has been on a mission to fill homeless veterans’ new housing units with furnishings. Philanthropist, church-goer, and professional mover, Helin told Yahoo News that his compassion for homeless vets stems from his father’s military background and his own plight.

Helin is No Stranger to Struggle

In a candid 2019 video posted to the County of San Mateo’s Human Services website, Helin detailed the life of struggle he once led. That life inspired him to want to help others.

The self-proclaimed “poster child of relapse” had suffered under the extraordinary weight of addiction for most of his life, having started taking drugs at the tender age of twelve. He found refuge in worship and religion and soon learned to fill his emptiness by helping others.

With more than a decade of sobriety under his belt, Helin recognizes many of our nation’s soldiers don’t come home from the trenches. They become homeless instead. When speaking on the fate of homeless veterans in America, Helin said:

“They gave their life for my country, and they’re living on the street. It just doesn’t sit right with me.”

Helin Has Helped More Than 500 Newly Housed Veterans Furnish Their Homes and Enhance their Lives

Seeing a need in the community and driven by his steadfast faith, Helin of the Central Peninsula Church in California’s Foster City has brought hundreds of newly housed veterans thousands of mildly used pieces of furniture. His studio dedicated to this craft is an awe-inspiring 16,000-square-foot space brimming with donations from people who support the cause.

From televisions and sofas to candy bags and prayer cards, no gift is too big or too small. Each modest apartment instantly transforms from a hollowed affordable housing unit to a home.

Veterans on the receiving end of Helin’s generosity have gushed over the contribution. Wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran Roger Yarborough spent the past five years confined to a tent. He called having his new home furnished “one of the nicest things that happened to me in my entire life.”

His Advocacy Efforts Have Garnered Praise and Awards

Since the start of this venture, Helin has been continuously recognized for his efforts to comfort formerly homeless veterans by furnishing their new homes. He was recently the recipient of the Bay Area Jefferson Award. In 2019, he was named Patriot of the Year.

His highest praises come from grateful formerly homeless veterans, as well as church leaders and project organizers. The future gleams ahead for this unsung hero. Helin is slated to furnish more affordable housing units in the upcoming construction project Gateway at Millbrae Station. While he is doing well on his own, he is always seeking donations and volunteers.

Helin reflects fondly on his progress, stating how far he’s come from the days when he struggled with severe addiction.

“I was a very empty person inside, and today I feel full,” he smiled.

Show Your Support by Getting Involved in Your Community

Permanent long-term housing solutions makes success stories like these possible. There is nothing to furnish for the 40,000 homeless veterans still living on the streets. Please show your support by contacting your legislators or getting involved in your own community. Echo the sentiments of John Helin, who found empathy for his neighbors even through the darkness that was once his life.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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