Homeless vet gets 'home makeover' in new place
Deb Gilbert never planned on being homeless.
It was just a string of events that left the 61-year-old veteran without a home during the entire month of December, she said.
Gilbert's husband died in 2015 from cancer, and she had to move out of her Smith Street home in York City, forcing her to find other places to stay.
"I bounced around ... ever since 2015," she said.
After doing that for a while, she finally had to check into a shelter, where she said she received the help she needed. From there, she reached out to a veterans organization, which helped place her in an apartment on Manor Street.
On Saturday, two weeks after she moved in to her new place, Wholey Homes organized a "home makeover" for Gilbert.
Makeover: Wholey Homes, an organization that provides design services for vetted single-parent and veteran families transitioning out of homelessness, helped spruce up Gilbert's apartment.
The organization reached out to others a few weeks before, asking for supplies or help chipping in with the makeover. Anne Seiwart, founder of Wholey Homes, said York County-based Military and Commercial Fasteners stepped up to the plate.
She said employees of the MCF donated things they had, such as lightly used tools and supplies for the makeover. On Saturday, a few volunteers helped spruce up some rooms in Gilbert's home.
"I think it makes everyone feel good," Seiwart said.
Furniture, wall hangings, a mattress, a bedroom set and dishes were just some of the items Gilbert received. Volunteers were all over the home Saturday, carrying heavy furniture and hanging new pieces of art.
Seiwart said they were trying to "make it feel cozy."
Gilbert, who was kept away during the transformation, eagerly awaited the big reveal.
"My daughter is excited," said Gilbert, who will be living in the home with her 23-year-old daughter and 2-year-old grandson.
"My daughter just loves this place," she added.
After the reveal, Gilbert was in shock.
"The bedroom looks like it belongs in one of those decorator magazines," she said.
She said the makeover was unexpected, and it was like Christmas, which she couldn't celebrate this year.
“Today really feels like a holiday. I’m just so grateful,” she said.
Homeless: Gilbert, a veteran who served in the Army as a military police officer stationed in Germany during the last few years of the Vietnam War, said she had never been homeless before.
"It just puts your whole life in perspective. It really does," she said.
Gilbert said she would sometimes stay with friends or family but wouldn't stay long.
"It was heart-wrenching," she said.
In December, she ran out of options and checked into the Bell Family Shelter in York City, a decision she said she probably should have made earlier.
Gilbert said she was afraid to go, saying there is a stigma that the shelters are in bad condition or she wouldn't get privacy.
"It wasn't like how I imagined in my head," she said.
While there, she found out she was eligible for help from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families. The organization helped place her in her current home.
Despite all the hardships Gilbert went through, she maintained a positive demeanor, which she attributed to her faith in God.
"I'm gonna tell you what — I did a lot of praying," she said.
County homelessness: Gilbert's home makeover came just days after the Continuum of Care completed its annual unsheltered count of York County.
Jessica Mockabee, chair of the organization, said Friday that volunteers counted 35 "unsheltered" people in the county, meaning that those people do not have a place to stay, not even a shelter.
Mockabee said the number was tentative because she was waiting to hear back from counts conducted in the southern end of the county.
She said volunteers went out Thursday and asked people if they had stayed in a shelter the night before, and if they said no, they were included in the count.
Even with the unfinished count, Mockabee said she's expecting the number to be lower than last year's count of 69.
“It’s definitely looking that way,” she said.
Mockabee said most of the county's unsheltered are in York City.
Additionally, Mockabee said they don't count people who stay at other people's homes, like Gilbert did.
She said some things most people might not know about homeless people is that many of them are working or trying to work. Mockabee said a lot of times for the individuals to be employed, they need a state ID or birth certificate, or even an address, to apply for jobs.
Meeting those requirements might be difficult for those who do not have the money to get a state ID, she said.
“It’s definitely a barrier,” she said.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.