GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - As a teenager, Aleksandr Kolpakov immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and her American husband, and as soon as he could joined the U.S. Army.
By then he was a permanent resident on the path to citizenship.
"It was the height of 9/11, I was (almost) a brand-new citizen, and I figured it was a good way to solidify myself as an American," Kolpakov said.
Kolpakov, 25, served in Afghanistan, where he rose to the rank of sergeant after he became a naturalized citizen.
After his service, in 2009, Kolpakov bought a car and set out to see America, discovering Grand Junction along the way.
He returned to Grand Junction with his girlfriend Jennifer Randall, 24, two years ago.
The couple arrived with $100, and thus, slept in their van - and while Kolpakov was accustomed to roughing it, he wanted something better for Randall. So he went to the Veterans Affairs in Grand Junction seeking assistance.
The VA told Kolpakov about the Phoenix project - a collaboration of Housing Resources of Western Colorado and HomewardBound of the Grand Valley - a program that provides transitional, affordable housing for homeless veterans.
"I was fortunate to find a guy there who really cared," Kolpakov said. "They helped us find a place to live. We were very fortunate."
Housing Resources bought the Phoenix property located centrally in Grand Junction in 2004, and immediately began partnering with HomewardBound to create the transitional housing program for homeless veterans. It's an eight-unit apartment complex that provides stable, affordable housing for singles or couples for up to two years. During that time tenants receive case management services to help them transition into self-sufficiency.
Both Randall and Kolpakov easily found jobs. Now she works at StarTek, and Kolpakov teaches self-defense classes at Colorado Mesa University as well as privately. They lived at the Phoenix apartments nearly two years before moving in last week to their own two-bedroom apartment in Clifton, on a street of modest townhomes.
"It's nice being in a bigger place; I'm adjusting to more space," Randall said.
The transitional housing program allowed Kolpakov the chance to launch his business, said Tracy Johnson, HomewardBound family case manager.
"They needed time, resources, a little guidance and a place they could afford while trying to get a place they wanted to be at," Johnson said.
Some homeless veterans need additional assistance.
"Each vet is different," Johnson said. "Some are disabled. Some are looking for work. Some are going to school."
There's a mixture of young and old, including both Vietnam and Iraq War veterans, she said.
Since 2005, the program has helped 57 formerly homeless veterans find a permanent home. Applicants must be sober for at least 90 days before being admitted to the program.
"Most don't have family," Johnson said. "Some have post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance abuse issues.
"Some can't find jobs. They get depressed when they can't find a job."
Those who are unemployed sometimes pay rent with income derived from disability insurance, or Social Security. Johnson and Housing Resources property manager Coleen Simpson help the veterans with budgeting.
"We encourage them," Johnson said. "(The Phoenix) is a nice, quiet area," that they can call home.
One veteran, struck with terminal cancer, simply needed a dignified place to die. Johnson and Simpson visited the man two or three times a week until he passed.
"We were there for him," Johnson said. "It was a good, safe place to be."
There are plenty of success stories where veterans, like Kolpakov, graduate into self-sufficiency, Johnson said.
She mentioned a young Iraq War veteran who attended IntelliTech College to study automotive.
"He finished school, is working, got married, and is doing really well. He has custody of his children, which is great," Johnson said.
One female, a Vietnam veteran, currently lives at the Phoenix.
"Everyone that lives with us, all of them fought for our country," Johnson said.