Group helps homeless find permanent homes

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Bruce Marzett, who was homeless for 25 years, now has his own apartment in Hollywood.
CBS News

In this country of so much wealth, it is a sad fact that on any given night, nearly 650,000 people are homeless. But as CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, there is an army of volunteers out there determined to change that.

Bruce Marzett was homeless for 25 years. In June, with his dog Elton, he moved into his own apartment in Hollywood.

"If you look around, you can see it's a person's dream, basically," he said.

A Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD, emphysema and bipolar disorder, Marzett was living a nightmare, panhandling to survive in Venice, Calif.

"People say, 'You live in Venice?' No, I lived on Venice," said Marzett. "I lived on the sand, I lived on the parking lots, I lived on the streets."

That was until early one morning when volunteers entered and changed his life. They are with 100,000 Homes campaign, a nationwide non-profit with the goal of putting 100,000 homeless Americans in permanent housing, with the most sick and vulnerable first.

On this morning, they were fanning out at 4:00 am to survey the homeless of Pasadena -- people like 55-year-old William Anderson.

"How long have you been out here?" Whitaker asked Anderson.

"I've been out here seven months. Just here in Pasadena."

Anderson used to haul goods from the port of L.A. in his own rig until two-and-a-half years ago. When business went bad, he lost his truck, lost his home and ended up here.

"A few bad decisions and a few bad choices," he said, "and you can end up right here."

The volunteers of 100,000 Homes find people living in vans, doorways and parks.

"The average lifespan for someone being homeless is 55 years," said Becky Kanis, director of 100,000 Homes. "It shaves about 25 years off someone's life."

She said housing the homeless -- by tapping existing federal housing funds and VA vouchers -- saves communities money. When they're sheltered from the cold and rain -- the homeless don't use emergency rooms as often or spend nights in jail for loitering.

"They get hospitalized and that's $2,000 a night in many cases. Just one time of doing that costs more than rent. Jail is $75 a night. Most housing is maybe $35 per night."

It's a dollars and cents argument that has persuaded 88 communities from Seattle to Phoenix to Bangor, Maine, to participate in the program.

"The people who are on the street are eligible for subsidized housing," said Kanis, "but don't often have the wherewithal, the know how to navigate these complex bureaucracies."

The campaign helped Bruce Marzett get his place. A third of his income from social security and VA pension goes towards his $820-a-month rent. Federal aid programs pay the rest.

"I got a TV," he said. "I got a dog, I got an air conditioner, I got a kitchen, I got a bathroom, I got a bed, I got a door."

And he has hope. In just 8 months, the campaign has found homes for almost 11,000 people.