STOCKTON, Calif — Under a freeway overpass near Downtown Stockton, 68-year-old Army veteran Donnel Gaines calls an old RV his home.
"This is the sink. This is the oven. This is the full sized refrigerator," says Gaines, giving a tour inside his RV.
He is a five-year veteran, who says he served two years of combat in Vietnam and has been on the streets for the past four years.
"I don't know what homelessness is," says Gaines.
He says he has a place, but says he would like a real home.
"The problem with that is income, right? How much is a one-bedroom apartment right now? You can't get one for $800," Gaines said.
In San Joaquin County in 2017, there were 112 veterans identified as experiencing homelessness.
In 2019, the number jumped to 153, an increase of 37%. But, there is hope for homeless veterans.
A 48-unit permanent housing complex called Victory Gardens is being built in French Camp, specifically for military veterans without a home.
"These are supported by VA case managers, so the Housing Authority and HUD provide the rental assistance. The State of California and federal tax credits do the bricks and sticks," says Peter Ragsdale, executive director for the Housing Authority of the County of San Joaquin.
Ragsdale believes it is a blueprint for helping to solve veteran homelessness, but says it's not enough.
"I'm very pleased that this is the first veterans, dedicated veterans project in San Joaquin County with permanent supportive housing, but we're late to the party. We need to do more," he said.
The land for Victory Gardens was donated by San Joaquin County. It is targeted for completion in the fall of next year.
For veterans like Donnel Gaines, who says he cries and suffers nightmares from what he witnessed in war, he agrees that more needs to be done.
"A lot of people have died and lost their lives to have me come back here and do what I'm doing," said Gaines.