An overflow crowd spilled into the chill of a bright November day, the sun streaming into the community room at Sebastian Place, a 20-unit residence for chronically homeless veterans. A congregation of fellow veterans, CCS staff, volunteers, and other supporters had gathered for “A Celebration of Life to Honor Those Who Have Passed and Will Be Remembered:” David Coan; Ricky Kyles; Robert “Bobby” Nelson, Jr.; Gary Peyton; James Rhodes; and Randolph Whitney.
Under a huge bouquet of red, white, and blue flowers, shadow boxes containing flags, badges, and insignia were carefully displayed, solemn testaments to each man’s service in the US Navy, Army, and Marine Corps. Adjacent frames carried photographs and fond remembrances of each veteran, his life, and the unique part he had played in the supportive environment of Sebastian Place.
Over the last two years, a few had succumbed to chronic illness; for others, the end had come unexpectedly. Most did not have family or friends present beyond the Sebastian Place community; still, each was remembered in the fullness of his humanity: David, the quiet Navy vet whose hard early life had been redeemed in part by his acceptance at a local med tech program; Jerry, the former Marine passionate about music; Ricky, “The Alabama Kid”, an Army storyteller; Gary, also Army, whose physical disabilities belied the time he spent making jewelry sets for his mother; and Bobby, another Army vet, who was fondly described as “a conundrum: he didn’t like people and yet knew he needed them around him.”
Myla Whitney recalled how another Army vet, her older brother Randy, had been welcomed at Sebastian Place after losing his leg to medical complications. The strength of this unique community moved her to join the Sebastian Place team as a Residential Services Coordinator. “I treat these men with just as much respect and love as I had for my brother. They are my brothers.”
The freshest grief was occasioned by the death of James Rhodes, Navy vet and longtime Residential Services Coordinator, a man described as “the epitome of Sebastian Place” by Alison Ahlgrim, Director of Housing Services for CCS Northwest. During her emotional opening tribute, Alison emphasized that Jim had insisted that the veterans’ memorial gathering, delayed so long by Covid protocols, should take place as soon as possible. No one expected that his shadow box would be on the table.
Former resident Tim recalled early years at Sebastian House, “Jim was passionate about helping people, about music, poets, and artists. That man changed my life.” Volunteers from the Red Cross and local veterans’ organizations in attendance affirmed Jim’s bone-deep commitment to Sebastian Place residents, his unique ability to bring others on board through music, special events, or by simply saying, “We need you here.” According to former colleagues, “Jim was Sebastian Place. He provided continuity, a presence. He was tirelessly, tenaciously, there for others.”
Rodney, a proud Marine and Sebastian Place resident, observed that Jim “did his fighting best to bring dignity to all who crossed his path.” The ceremony ended with the installation of a memorial plaque in Jim’s honor, a delicious lunch prepared by the Everett Elks Club and CCS staff, and a traditional celebration of the birthday of the US Marine Corps, November 10th. Guests departed, deeply grateful for this opportunity to fellowship and to remember these departned veterans one more time.
While CCS/CHS welcomes veterans to all of our emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing programs, we have set aside two expressly designed to meet the needs of chronically homeless veterans: Sebastian Place (425) 967-3476, serving Snohomish County; and the Drexel Houses (360) 753-3340 in Thurston County. For those interested in making donations, toiletries, paper products, and grocery gift cards are always welcome at Sebastian House (Fred Meyer is right up the street). Vets also appreciate warm gloves/hats this time of year! Both programs are supported by the CCS/CHS 2022 Appeal for the Poor.