By Casey Crowley

Warren Bonds smiles more than anyone you have ever met, so much so some people even call him smiley.

He has ample reason to grin these days.

For the first Christmas in 14 years, Bonds isn’t homeless.

At one time all he owned was a Bible, a Popsicle-stick cross and a truck and camper.

Also Harvey.

Harvey is a rooster.

Bonds found the cross around the time his mother died. That was more than 15 years ago.

His father died less than three months later.

The cross, like Bonds himself, has been through a lot.

A fire.

Two explosions.

His two heart attacks and his 14 years of homelessness.

Today the cross hangs on the wall of Bonds’ home.

“It’s still in one piece and so am I, so it’s a miracle,” Bonds said.

Three months ago Bonds, 54, moved into an apartment at the Blue Ridge Apartments in north Baker City.

Bonds said he had had trouble finding a place to share with Harvey because many cities ban roosters.

(The Baker City Council considered banning roosters earlier this year but ended up dropping the idea after many residents objected.)

Bonds first got Harvey, who’s 5, three years ago in Boise. The family who previously owned the rooster thought he was a hen. They had to give him up because of a ban on roosters within the city. So Bonds, whose mother had previously owned a rooster named Ernie, decided to take Harvey.

“He was eager to hit the road, and he still is, he’s in the camper loaded up and ready to go by five in the morning,” Bonds said.

At the time that Bonds got Harvey most of his immediate family had died, along with many of his friends and pets. He had already been homeless for over a decade.

“I think a rooster is going to have a little bit deeper personality and is a much more trainable creature,” Bonds said.

Harvey was named after radio journalist Paul Harvey, who Bonds remembered for his coverage of the Second World War. Also the rooster just looks like a Harvey, Bonds said.

Bonds and Harvey needed help to find their new home.

Bonds has been living in the area around Baker for about a year and a half. He first came here during the summer of 2017, and he didn’t realize how much the smoke from forest fires would affect his health. In fact, he got sick the first day he was here and feared he might end up back in the hospital.

About a year ago Bonds had two heart attacks. When the first one happened he drove himself to the emergency room where the doctors eventually summoned Life Flight to take him to Boise. On the helicopter ride he had the second heart attack.

Without medical attention Bonds thinks he would have died. It was around that time that he realized he needed a place more stable than his camper. Bonds says that in the past he had been too stubborn to seek the care he needed.

“It’s been a lot more stable than anything I have experienced in the last few years,” said Bonds of his experience in his new home.

Part of the reason for his heart attacks is a hereditary cholesterol issue he has, along with cardiovascular heart disease (CVD). Bonds’ father had four heart attacks, and his mother died of a heart attack. Bonds also had a blood clot that damaged his heart.

Prior to being homeless Bonds served in the military, a tradition in his family. His grandfather, father, uncles and brothers all served in the military, and he has a niece who is serving in the Coast Guard. Bonds enlisted in the Army in 1990 but was on a waiting list for the position he desired. Bonds was an operating engineer at Fort Hood in Texas.

“I believe it was probably one of the better jobs in the army,” Bonds said.

Part of the reason Bonds was able to find housing was assistance from Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, a nonprofit that helps people with a variety of needs. He was able to find housing through the Supportive Services for Veteran Family Program.

The program is open to veterans who were not dishonorably discharged, who earn less than 50 percent of the average per capita income in their county, and who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Bonds was able to find housing in just about two hours after Rick Gloria, the county’s veteran services officer, referred him to Lori Barker, who manages the veterans support program for Community Connection.

Barker was able to show Bonds the apartment immediately. After a phone call to the property manager, Molly Ragsdale Smith, Bonds had his first home in almost a decade and a half.

“Housing a veteran who has been chronically homeless for 14 years is very difficult there is a lot of barriers that come with that,” Barker said.

Bonds was at McDonald’s, having a meal, when he got the call from Barker that he would have a home. He was thankful that he would have a place to stay while dealing with his health issues.

When he moved in he had almost nothing, but because of help from a number of community partners he was able to get a bed and a few other pieces of furniture in less than a day. Bonds will also receive a microwave to make cooking easier. Barker plans to bring him a Christmas meal.

Barker says that helping homeless veterans get back on their feet is rewarding.

Bonds said he has read recently about efforts by the federal government to end homelessness among veterans.

As of January 2017 there were about 40,000 veterans who were homeless, making up 11 percent of the national homeless population, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Since 2010 the number of homeless veterans in the U.S. has declined by about 46 percent.

See more in the Dec. 21, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.