Bus ticket to Petersburg changes homeless vet’s life

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PETERSBURG, Va. (WTVR) - For one homeless veteran, a bus ticket to Petersburg offered up more than just a fresh start.

Richard Barnes said his life has changed a lot in a month. The four- year Navy veteran was living and working in Richmond when he said a series of events went from bad to worse.

"Things just went downhill, pretty quickly," said Barnes. "You're living paycheck to paycheck [and] it can happen pretty quickly."

When he became homeless, Barnes contacted the Veterans Administration for help, and was told there was a spot available in the shelter in Petersburg.

"They gave me a bus ticket and I came down to Petersburg," said Barnes.

That's where he met with Virginia Supportive Housing, who introduced Barnes to a business owner who was willing to take a chance.

"It's a risk when you hire anyone, especially someone that's in a homeless shelter," admitted  DJ Payne, who owns Wabi Sabi Restaurant.

He said one thing he worried about was whether or not Barnes would stick around. However, Payne said Barnes has stuck around -- and fits in perfectly at his restaurant.

"Richard is an amazing employee; he blends right in with our staff," said Payne.

And the paycheck from his new job allowed him to move out of the shelter.

"We were able to secure him some housing, using some temporary financial assistance for security deposit, first month's rent," said Virginia Supportive Housing's Sean Monroe.

Barnes said he understands it's up to him to keep his job and keep making the payments, so he can keep his apartment.  Still, he is grateful for his new job in Petersburg – and all of the people who have stepped up to help him.

He also hopes other employers will offer others the same opportunity he received.

"If they would take a chance on someone like me in my situation, they'd be surprised how much they could get back in return," said Barnes.