[Photo: John English]
John English

PORTLAND, OREGON - Fly into or out of PDX - Portland's International Airport - and your ears are sure to swear they hear Frank Sinatra singing. No, Ol' Blue Eyes hasn't returned from the dead. His stylings and phrasings live on thanks to Aloha, Oregon's John English as he pays tribute to Sinatra before audiences, says The Portland Tribune, "in the Portland area and beyond."

It's a tribute John's been playing more than 40 years, ever since someone told him his voice sounded like, well, The Voice. "When you're listening to a lot of the records," he told the Portland Housing Bureau (, "things just kind of get put in your brain."

Just out of high school in California he joined the Marine Corps, serving a tour on Okinawa where the USO asked him to do shows for the troops. They loved it. Sinatra, he's discovered, "crosses all barriers."

He'd considered a career in the military, but after six years decided not to re-up. Honorably discharged he moved to Oregon, married, had a son and, then, got divorced. "I basically took on the role of raising my son on my own since he was a year old."

If you have the good luck to come upon John - a trim and fit 60-year-old apparently born to wear a tux - you'd probably think, the Bureau notes, he's got the world on a string. Not really. "I don't think most people think, 'Well, one of these days I'm going to be homeless. I'm going to be, well, in a big transitional moment,'" he said, that "anybody imagines that five years from now I'm going to be sitting in a hotel wondering where I'm going." But homeless is exactly where John - and his son - found themselves.

First Lady Michelle Obama has called what's happened to John and other veterans who've become homeless "a stain on our nation." Her husband, the President of the United States, has launched an aggressive campaign to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Even better, he's made sure Federal and other resources match the rhetoric.

Starting with the HUD VASH - Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing - program which funds rental vouchers homeless vets can use to find permanent, affordable rental units. Since 2008, HUD's awarded more than 60,000 VASH vouchers to housing authorities nationwide, including 1,718 to 15 authorities in Oregon.

Multnomah County, the cities of Portland and Gresham, Home Forward and their partners have joined together in A Home for Every Veteran campaign, providing additional resources - funding for security deposits and to pay-off past-due rent, access to a 24-hour-a-day "rapid response" team to address "urgent" tenant issues, public recognition for helping end veteran homelessness - to encourage landlords with available units in Portland's "high demand, low-vacancy" rental market to give homeless veterans a "first shot" at renting those units.

"A lot of the veterans who've lived on the streets," says Marc Jolin who's in charge of the A Home for Every Veteran campaign, "have some things in their background that make it challenging for them to screen into an apartment" especially given the competition for vacant rental units in Multnomah County. "We're asking landlords to focus less on the past and more on where these veterans are headed with the community support available to them."

Just like a landlord who took the time to listen and look at John English's future when, with, a VASH voucher in hand and backing from a Home for Every Veteran, he knocked on a door, put his "best foot forward" and "shared his story". Today he and his son live in a "spacious" two-bedroom apartment.

"John has a fantastic story, a fantastic story about how far he's been able to come with the support he's received from the community," said Marc Jolin. "That is the story we want to be able to tell for every single homeless veteran in our community."

Sinatra, said English, "crosses all barriers." So too does homelessness among veterans, just over 300 of whom are living on the streets of Multnomah County today. There are black homeless vets and white homeless vets. Young ones and old ones. Male and female. Each is hoping her or his story will turn out okay.

If you're a landlord with one or two or twenty vacant units for rent, you can help make that happen. Start by finding out more about A Home for Every Veteran (


Content Archived: January 25, 2017