Instead of living in Army barracks, Robert Bruce would pitch a tent in the nearby woods. He preferred the isolation.
While not a troublemaker, the infantryman was repeatedly disciplined for letting his hair grow too long. Going to the barber meant being around crowds, and Bruce doesn’t do that.
“I’ve always been pretty much alone. Most of the time I didn’t want to be around people,” Bruce said. “Even now, I get very nervous.”
This mental illness, diagnosed as paranoia, led the Vietnam veteran to spend much of his adult life homeless, living out of vehicles around Oakland and the East Bay.
Until he let one person in.
Earlier this year, Bruce, 60, was referred to Ron Murray, a veterans services coordinator with Swords to Plowshares, and his life changed dramatically.
The homeless veterans-assistance nonprofit, based out of Oakland and San Francisco, helps about 3,000 veterans each year. Last year, the group got permanent housing for more than 1,200 homeless veterans, with another 319 receiving employment and job training, according to the agency’s website.